23 January 2011

Sundance 2011, "The Devil's Double"

4:01 PM, January 23, 2011
By: Kyle Smith

Lee Tamahori's preposterous House of Saddam thriller "The Devil's Double" is a gimmick movie whose sole reason for existence appears to be the opportunity to let Dominic Cooper ("An Education") play both Uday Hussein (the whoring, disco-loving, degenerate psychotic son of the fascist dictator) and a soldier plucked out of the ranks to serve as one of Uday's body doubles. This family of evil cowards, of course, was said to have frequently sent doubles into dangerous situations and to strike heroic poses among the people.

Absolutely nothing about the film is credible except for the perverted sadism of Uday, but this vile monster's flaws are illustrated at nauseating length in scene after scene after scene of Uday disembowelling enemies, raping a bride on her wedding day and snorting cocaine. So what?

The movie is supposedly based on the memoirs of Latif Yahia, but anyone who's ever read anything about terror states knows how they work. Here's how they don't work: when Latif is plucked out of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war to be the devil's double, he at first refuses, then throws lots of tough-guy John McClane dialogue at Uday, confesses his hatred of Uday to his minders, steals Uday's car (twice) and his girlfriend (Ludivine Sagnier). After having seen a set of torture videos that vividly demonstrate what happens to those who displease Uday and his daddy. Talk about an anti-aphrodisiac: Latif sees images of a guy being treated to an electric drill inserted in his ear.

Maybe Latif is trying to portray himself as a heroic freedom fighter who conducted a one-man Resistance from inside the palace, but he wouldn't have lived 30 seconds if he had tried any of these things. And why would Uday drive around Baghdad with his clandestine double seated next to him for all to see? That rather defeats the purpose of having a double in the first place. Latif is there for cinematic reasons, to provide an audience surrogate to bear witness to the regime's depradations, not because it makes any sense for him to be present for Uday's parties and binges and picking up girls.

Ridiculous as all this is, the movie pumps it up into the realm of sheer fantasy during an absurd finale when Latif turns into a sort of Jason Bourne action man who easily steals a pistol and goes after Uday. Tamahori, who is best known for Hollywood hackwork like "Die Another Day," "Next" and "xXx: State of the Union," treats the horrors of the Saddam Hussein apparatus in exactly the same way. Such recent and horrific history is not to be handled in such a shallow, trifling fashion.