Wednesday, August 24, 2011
#184: Devil's Double
Biographies are most fun when two things come together. The first is that there's an interesting character in the film. The second is if that personality has had a life or in other words a great story to tell. You look at a movie like Schindler's List and probably see both working together. On the flip side, if it is only of the two things that happen, you get a reasonable middle-of-the-road watch. I would say movies like W and Beyond the Sea fall in the category where the personality was quite interesting but either the way the story was being told didn't cut ice or they didn't have great stories in the first place. A movie like a Fair Game or Goodnight and Good Luck, though strictly not biographies, are examples where the protagonists were ordinary people but the situations that they faced made for remarkable stories. The Devil's Double released in 2009 falls in the category of the latter.
Based on the book by Latif Yahia, Uday Hussain's body double, it tells us the story of Latif's journey from being Uday's most trusted aide till the time he escaped Iraq. Set in early 1990, the story begins at a time when Saddam's reputation in Iraq was one that of a responsible nation-building leader. His son Uday meanwhile, soaked in drugs and sex all day and inebriated with power, was running amok with his lifestyle killing people at will and picking adolescent school girls off the street. In the words of Hosni Mubarak, who call him 'a psychopath', Uday was doing everything to give credence to that title. Directed by Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day), the Devil's Double is an unabashed account of those heady years of Uday's life and his relationship with Latif Yahia, an army lieutenant who is employed as Uday's body double forcefully.
Dominic Cooper who plays both Uday and Latif is irrepressible in his avatar as the former and immaculately intense as the latter. Undoubtedly, this has to be his best performance ever and it would be interesting to see if he gets a BAFTA nomination at least if not an Oscar nomination. His love interest is played by French actress Ludivine Sagnier and though I haven't seen much of her work to comment, she does come across believable as the attractive but selfish Sarrab. Michael Thomas, who has adapted the story for the screen, I suspect has taken a few liberties with the true nature of events and those at times stick out uncomfortably in an otherwise captivating account of Latif's life. While watching one couldn't help but think that there were a few Bollywood-ish elements in the movie that could've been done without. Lee Tamahori otherwise maintains a tight grip on the action and closes the movie on a high.
Devil's Double is a treat for anyone who has interest in movies with disturbing characters as their fulcrum. The movie succeeds in bringing in much of the tyranny Uday was famous for on-screen and that lends it a real shock value. It would be only fair to say that it is one of the better English movies in recent times.