The Sun reviews The Devil's Double, a bloody portrait of Uday Hussein.
As first semester closed, Cornell Cinema screened the film, The Devil’s Double, a 2011 drama film directed by Lee Tamahori, who is best known for directing the 1994 film Once Were Warriors and the 2002 James Bond film, Die Another Day. The Devil’s Double stars Dominic Cooper, Philip Quast, Ludivine Sagnier and Raad Rawi. The film was shot in Jordan and Malta and first released at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
The film narrates vignettes of Saddam Hussein’s sadistic son, Uday, through his relationship with “Latif,” a body double forcibly inducted in that role. Saddam’s one-man regime was thoroughly cruel, but his son was even more corrupt and sadistic. The historical backdrop is Iraq’s disastrous decision to fight a very bloody and costly war with Iran during the 1980s. When the Iraq-Iran war ended, Iraq was bankrupt, and Saddam decided to invade Kuwait for its oil resources. The United States intervened to protect its own oil interests, however, and drove out Iraq from Kuwait. After the war, the Shia in Southern Iraq tried to revolt and attempted to assassinate Uday. In retaliation, Saddam killed many Shia in a brutal genocide. The film not only brings into light the strikingly violent and decadent regime of Saddam Hussein and his son, but also helps explain the violent political environment of that decade.
The film opens in 1987 Baghdad and revolves around the experiences of Latif Yahia (Cooper), an Iraqi army lieutenant whose life becomes a nightmare after he is hand-picked to be a "fiday" (body double) for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's ruthless son Uday. Latif is elevated into the highest workings of the royal family when he is given an offer he can’t refuse. To protect his family from being thrown into Abu Ghraib or being killed or raped, he must become the fiday of Uday, also known as the notorious “Black Prince.” Uday is a reckless party-boy who is addicted to cocaine, sex and brutality. He is a sadistic psychopath who arbitrarily kills people; he even rapes and kills young women after kidnapping them from the street. During a party reminiscent of Roman decadence, Uday disembowels one of Saddam’s close associates with an electric carving knife after an argument. On another occasion, he rapes a bride during her wedding reception, and the woman kills herself because of her shame and dishonor.
Latif has to forgo his old life, undergoes surgery to make him look more like Uday and learns to walk, talk and act like him. However, nothing could have prepared him to face the horrors of Uday’s life — of driving fast cars to pick up loose or respectable women and committing sadistic, often pointless murders. Latif tries to stop Uday, and even attempts to run away, but this only causes Uday to become even more aggressive and possessive. Uday is unable to let Latif go, and though he can have anything in the world, he can’t tolerate rejection. Uday does not kill Latif because the latter is the best double that could be found.
Throughout this nightmarish situation, Latif strikes up a relationship with Sarrab (Ludivine Sangier), one of Uday’s mistresses. As war looms with Kuwait, and Uday's depraved gangster regime threatens to destroy them all, Latif comes to the realization that death may be the only way to escape from the Devil’s den. Latif manages to escape, but his father is tortured and killed by Uday in revenge. Finally, Latif returns to Iraq in disguise, and manages to shoot Uday in a crowded bazaar, severely handicapping him. We learn that Latif eventually moves to Ireland where he continues to live a quiet life. Uday and Saddam were finally killed after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Devil’s Double does not sufficiently investigate the questionable role the United States played in propping up Saddam’s regime throughout the 1980s, lending cover to the atrocities perpetuated on Iranian and Iraqi citizens. The film is also hard to watch, due to the relentless psychopathic performance of Uday throughout. The Los Angeles Times gave the film a negative review, saying, “The story of Uday Hussein's body double is relentlessly violent and lurid.” But the film also gives a good sense of the oppressive and surreal environment of Iraq under dictatorship, where no one was safe from the absolute power that was arbitrarily exercised by Saddam’s family. Its larger message on the corruption and cruelty of unchecked power remains powerful and relevant.