Posted on 7/31/13 12:25 AM
An Interesting Idea, Even If It Isn't Real
The problem with "based on a true story" is, well, who says it's true? In this case, while the protagonist insists it's true, the evidence strongly suggests it is not. For one thing, while the whole point is that he was a body double, he was actually arrested for impersonating the person he was supposedly being forced to impersonate all the time. So there's that. For another, while it's well documented that the father used plenty of body doubles over the years, the only person who says that the son used any is the guy who says he was the double. Confidantes of the son say he didn't. Heck, the CIA said he didn't. I don't think there's any doubt that the son was a crazy person, but we can never know how accurate this story is, I suspect, because I suspect that the main source for this information is the guy who claims to be the hero of the story. That's never sufficient.
The father, of course, is Saddam Hussein (Philip Quast). The son is Uday (Dominic Cooper). While in school, Uday encountered Latif Yahia (also Dominic Cooper), an upper-class man who is now serving in the Iraqi army. When they were in school together, people routinely commented on how strong the resemblance between the two was, and Uday, after watching his father, has decided that he, too, should have a body double, and Latif is it. Whether he wants to be or not. Uday threatens his family until Latif agrees. And so Latif is caught up in the terrifying mess that is Uday Hussein's life. The movie doesn't have much to say about Saddam, but Uday is a madman. He kills his father's best friend and bodyguard, Kamel Hannah (Mem Ferda), because he accuses Hannah of having introduced Saddam to his mistress. Latif knows that, if Uday finds out that he's seeing Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), they are both likely to die, and Uday is getting more unstable all the time.
I don't feel any need to speak to the historical accuracy of the film, simply because it is so muddy. Was the historical Uday Hussein the same raging sociopath as the character we see here? I don't know. For the purposes of our discussion of the film, it doesn't matter. I see the story as more hypothetical than historical. It's true but unfortunate that a lot of people won't know that, and that is a problem, but I think it's a problem inherent to telling the story. It is an interesting story, and it does make an interesting movie--though not, perhaps, as interesting as it could have if it were written better--and the only real burden I think the filmmakers let go was in not establishing the unreliability of our narrator. I think the film has an obligation to let us know that there is doubt, but once that's established, I think we can take the story at its word and not keep going back to the fact that we can't be sure if it's true. It doesn't matter if the historical Uday was that crazy.
I have to say that I'm impressed with the effect of the double Dominic Coopers. He frequently appears in the same shot with himself, and that is still challenging. Oh, there have been ways of doing it for a very long time; I mean, look at The Parent Trap. But what he's doing in this movie is considerably more complicated than anything in The Parent Trap. (Large amounts of the work there, ironically enough, was with the use of a body double.) There were a lot of ways this could have been done that would have been a lot easier for the filmmakers to have done, not least of which would have been actually casting two people who just really looked a lot alike, though that would have required casting unknowns. (Because the guy who plays Thor and his brother could not convincingly look like the son of an Iraqi dictator, after all.) However, they chose to go the hard way on this, and I feel they should be commended for it. I can even see someone's being uncertain that they both were Dominic Cooper.
But in the end, it's a shame about the script. Uday Hussein may nor may not have been the same kind of rampaging psychopath that he seems in this movie, but the problem is, it seems fake even if it's true. Especially when he rapes a bride on her wedding day, for example, and when we see his people dumping a girl's body in the desert. It's possible the real Uday Hussein did such things, but it still makes him seem like a caricature of the son of a dictator. We also, in my opinion, never really get a feel for Latif. In the end, we are left with the interplay between a cartoon and a cipher, and that's a problem that all the fancy filming in the world cannot solve. It's easy to come across as the good guy opposite the film's version of Uday Hussein, and that's all Latif has to do. He has to be better than the Devil of the film's title. Maybe if they'd bothered to make either character more human, I would have liked this movie better.