Movie review: The evil within

2011-11-11 10:09

Film: The Devil’s Double (Nu Metro)
Director: Lee Tamahori
Featuring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier and Raad Rawi
Rating: 7/10

Coming from a guy who was reluctantly intimate with Saddam Hussein’s take on it, Latif Yahia’s quote “government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem” is deep, very deep.

Yahia is a novelist who now lives in Ireland, but at the height of Hussein’s power in the 1980s he had a front-row seat for the corruption, pathology and madness of the regime that Hussein’s eldest son, Uday, personified.

Yahia had the dubious honour of being Uday’s body double.

Based on Yahia’s 2003 book of the same name, The Devil’s Double is a glittering, monstrous gangster flick set in a place of great power that is shamelessly wielded for personal pleasure and gain.

Dominic Cooper gives a stand-out performance as both Yahia and Uday – flawlessly swopping from personifying a monster to being a man trying to mimic one. It is quite something to watch Cooper at work.

He is a versatile British actor – from singing Lay All Your Love on Me in Mamma Mia! to wooing a loveless Kiera Knightley in The Duchess – but you’ve never seen him do something this chameleon-like.

Directed by New Zealand-born Lee Tamahori, the master behind Once Were Warriors and glitzy fare like Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s final Bond flick, this film is mesmerising. You won’t be able to tear your eyes from the screen despite the carnage displayed on it.

There have been questions as to Yahia’s version of his years as Uday’s double, but The Devil’s Double is a novel and the filmmakers have no doubt taken further liberties with the truth.

That’s okay – history is open to interpretation when it comes to the likes of personal perception and one guy’s experience.

As a film, though, this one’s a cracker, irrespective of whether Yahia has fudged the truth. It is a fascinating exploration of what being a body double means. Quite simply, it means killing yourself – first off with surgery that makes you not just a ringer for your boss, but the splitting image.

But it’s the other kind of death, the non-physical type that is so very heartbreaking. Every word you say is not your own. Your own thoughts might be clamouring to be heard, but when it comes down to it you say what the master’s voice says or commands you to.

The film explores this part of Yahia’s experience expertly, taking the audience on a painstaking reconstruction of what it might be like to never be able to phone your mother again, to never be able to reminisce about the weird guy in your science class or to apply your own moral compass.

And that’s all before the real horror begins – watching Uday kill a bloke (Saddam’s food-taster and loyal servant Kamel Hana Gegeo) at a party or being sent into harm’s way, or watching him abduct people off the street on a whim.

For a 360-degree version of Hussein’s rule, don’t watch this riveting first-person narrative.

But if you are looking for an eyes-glued drama – that plays out like a horror in a place as terrifying as Deliverance country, with a daredevil escape and even riskier revenge plot – this one’s the ticket.

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