- Film Festival
We all know the name Saddam Hussein. The name reminds my generation of a conflict that has engulfed much of the world for almost half of our lives. For others, it brings back memories of not only this war but also another in the early 90s. Much less known is the name Uday Hussein, Saddam’s eldest son. However, some say that Uday was just as dangerous, a veritable psychopath who played with anyone he chose. Uday became notorious for brutally punishing his friends, girlfriends, and even athletes who failed to perform. People closest to him report watching him rape and maim women on multiple occasions.
Enter Latif Yahia. Due to his resemblance to the President’s son, the Iraqi soldier was chosen to be Uday’s body double. As such, Latif had to melt into Uday’s life, not only bearing witness to Uday’s psychotic behavior without the power to stop it, but also becoming Uday in the public sphere. The new film The Devil’s Double, directed by Lee Tamahori, starring Dominic Cooper, and based on Latif’s book by the same name, tells the story of Latif’s life as Uday’s “twin brother.”
You may remember Cooper from Mamma Mia (2008) and The History Boys (2006). In this film, he plays three roles: Latif, Uday, and Latif pretending to be Uday, which is another character all together. For Cooper, this role was a huge jump from his past roles of brooding bad boy or jet-skiing golden boy, so I was skeptical at first. However, from the opening credits, it was clear that Cooper had risen to the challenge and that this would be a career-making performance. His portrayal of Latif is accomplished; his portrayal of Uday is outstanding.
One of the first scenes depicts Latif being delivered to Uday at his palace. The two stand face to face, one laughing manically like a hyena, the other staring soberly in disbelief. From there, Latif is jailed, beaten, forced to get plastic surgery, and made to relinquish all rights to his former identity. Much of what happens in the film seems over the top and extremely exaggerated. Uday disembowels his father’s friend at a party. The next morning, his henchmen dump the strangled body of a 14-year-old girl he had picked up as she was walking home from school. Later, he rapes and beats a woman on her wedding day, shaming her so greatly that she jumps off the balcony, dying on the patio in the middle of her waiting wedding reception.
These things may seem exaggerated, but, in fact, Uday’s actions are toned down for the movie. In the film, Latif survives two assassination attempts on Uday. In actually, he survived more than ten. In an interview with Latif after Uday’s death, he says that he once watched Uday mutilate a woman until she was a “hunk of meat.” Sadly the horrors in the movie pale in comparison to reality.
The world into which this film takes you is terrifying. In many films in which the content is foreign to Americans, the director must establish the rules of the environment, so that the audience can understand the gravity of what is happening. In this film, Lee Tamahori establishes that there are no rules, and that is why Latif’s world is so terrifying; accountability for Uday is virtually nonexistent with no safe haven for those he wishes to harm.
Latif’s is an amazing story and Tamahori’s is a wonderful film. Go see for yourself.