Film: "The Devil's Double"; Director: Lee Tamahori; Actors: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier and Raad Rawi; Rating: ****
The US has been preoccupied with Iraq for decades. After 9/11, its politicians cooked up reasons for a real occupation. That preoccupation and occupation continues with "The Devil’s Double", that carries an Oscar-worthy, scintillating performance by Dominic Cooper. His performance would have been enough to watch this film, but its extremely interesting subtexts make this must watch despite its many flaws.
A soldier, Latif Yahia (Dominic), is summoned from war to become the body double of Saddam Hussain’s son Uday Hussain (Dominic) - a psychotic, erratically violent, sex and drug obsessed fiend. This family loving and god-fearing man finds it difficult to imitate a monster leading to confrontation that threatens his and his family’s existence.
The film is a masterpiece of deception. At the face of it, "The Devil's Double" seems to portray the devilish life of Iraqis under a dictator - Saddam Hussain. And it does seem so when one considers the excesses of Uday and how his father tolerates him. However, this is actually a masterful deception that even producer Harry Houdini would have been proud of.
For, hidden inside this deception is actually a positive portrayal of both Saddam and everyone else in Iraq. Saddam is even shown trying to kill his devilish son, only to be stopped at the last moment.
The people who work for him are all honest and god-fearing in their own way. The citizens in the nation enjoy a good life and girls are shown wearing skirts to school, much against the burqa-clad impression people have of any middle eastern country.
The only devil in the picture is Uday.
The political subtexts of the film are thus well hidden. It seems to suggest tacitly that like Uday in the film, the devils who invaded and raped the otherwise beautiful and fairly peaceful country, are Americans.
Uday thus becomes a symbol of the Americans, and his double Yahya, of the innocent Iraqi forced into an occupation they did not seek or deserve.
Yes, like Yahya, the citizens were in the midst of their own conflict under Saddam, but the American occupation multiplied it exponentially.
And in that, this surprisingly apolitical film becomes one of the strongest political films, and an indictment of American policies in Iraq.
Its politics is hidden in a veneer of Uday’s brutality. Kudos to the writers and the director to have pulled this off with such finesse.
The greatest strength of the film is the explosive performance of Dominic. He plays the nervous energy of a madman and immediately afterwards the nervousness of another man trapped by that energy with equal élan.
His performance as Uday has the same intensity as that of a Daniel Day Lewis playing Christy Brown in "My Left Foot". Daniel won an Oscar for that film. Will Dominic win for this one?
However, the film's varying pace is a little disconcerting. And so is its melodramatic ending.
However, the entendre and the double entendres, the images and splitting images, the deception and the double deceptions, makes this a masterful creation despite its flaws. It will keep the viewers engaged till the end. Hopefully, much longer than that.