Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Devil's Double

3/4

Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Phillip Qast

Rated R for Strong Brutal Bloody Violence and Torture, Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, Drug Use, and Pervasive Language

Latif Yahia has everything.  Luxury clothes, classic cars, beautiful women, luxurious homes, and more money than he can possibly spend.  Normally for someone who was suddenly granted access to this lifestyle it would be a dream come true.  For Latif, it's a nightmare.  Everyone has to pay the price, and for Latif, it's being the body double of Uday Hussein.  Considering this means living under the constant threat of death (for him and his family) and watching someone commit atrocities at a whim, it's not a good trade-off.  But that's just me.

Actually, Latif (Cooper) wants no part of it either.  Not least of which because it would mean completely abandoning his former life.  He would exist only as Latif's double; ostensibly a bodyguard and bro to the son of the equally brutal Saddam, but he's really just a plaything to a psychopath whose narcissism and taste for cruelty know no bounds.  Uday (Cooper) is the traditional rich brat taken to an unbelievable level of insanity.  He can have anything or anyone at will, and he is untouchable.  For Latif, life has become being a witness to the Jerry Springer show from hell.  Uday is Caligula to the extreme, and he has a front row seat.

The problem with this movie is that director Lee Tamahori plays it straight.  There's no stylish spin on anything that goes on in this movie.  The thing is, Uday is such a larger-than-life character that such a direct, no frills portrayal detracts from the story.  This isn't a knock against Dominic Cooper, who is fabulous as the out of control maniac, but the character never becomes memorable.  It's a lifeless presentation of an unbelievable character.  The telling doesn't do him justice.  Think what "The Wolf of Wall Street" would have been like had Scorcese not built the film around Jordan Belfort's extravagance.  It was over-the-top because it had to be.  By not building the film in the same way, Tamahori robs the film of some much needed energy.

Of course, the real subject of the film is Latif, but that's exactly the point.  Tamahori should have highlighted Uday's extravagance to overload in the way he filmed the character and his actions.  It would have given a greater contrast between the monstrous Uday and the meek Latif.  Cooper is wonderful, always convincing as both characters (Cooper should have gotten an Oscar nomination, but the film was too low profile for the Academy to notice).  As Latif, he's watching a horror show in person, and no matter how much he'd like to, he can't stop Uday or leave.  He's trapped.

The other performances are fine, although special mention has to go to Raad Rawi, who plays Munem, Uday's butler/babysitter/caretaker what have you, and the only one that Latif can express his shock and disbelief to.  "You're a good man in a bad job," he says to Munem.  One gets the sense that he has spent his entire life watching the madness and cleaning up after it.  Ludivine Sagnier is adequate as Saraab, Uday's favorite squeeze of the moment.  But she's not memorable, and her romance with Latif is as unbelievable as it is unmemorable.

The film leaves out a lot.  Particularly Uday's close relationship with his mother.  She appears, but has no lines and functions more as a prop.  Likewise, Saddam (Qast) shows up for a few scenes, but his only purpose is to be intimidating.  No mention is made of his relationships with them, and since they were important figures in his life, it's a big oversight.  I'll give it some credit since the veracity of Latif's story is heavily disputed, but more should definitely have been done with them.

"The Devil's Double" isn't a great film, but it does do what it accomplishes.  Barely.

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