Movie review by Neil Sadler
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Mem Ferda, Dar Salim, Khalid Laith
Director: Lee Tamahori
One of the problems with any true story is that real life doesn’t often follow a path that lends itself to story telling. There isn’t always a hero, a villain and more importantly the denouements that make a story compelling.
As true stories go, the tale of Latif Yahia is an amazing one with a clearly defined hero and villain. Effectively kidnapped and surgically altered, Latif was forced to act as a double for Saddam Hussein’s oldest son Uday and also to share his life of drugs, sex and violence or lose the family he was devoted to.
The film portrays the culture of fear that existed in Saddam’s Iraq but also tells the familiar story of how power and money are the ultimate corruption and often it is those who have both and are determined never to lose them that are the most dangerous.
In the twin roles of Uday and Latif, Dominic Cooper is extremely impressive. The fact that you rarely feel like you are watching one actor play two roles is proof of how talented an actor he is. You also rarely question which character he is playing, which is testament to his acting as well as to the skill in the writing of the characters and how well they are defined.
What works less successfully is the directing and the problems that exist with the overall story. It seems like the director, Lee Tamahori, is determined to mimic the worst excesses of SCARFACE and portray Uday Hussein’s world as much the same. If Hussein was the focus of the story, this may have worked, but script clearly places Latif as the main character and we are asked to invest our sympathies in him, which for the most part we do. But when the focus shifts to Uday, Tamahori threatens to glorify this world, much as SCARFACE did. Villain’s are often more interesting than heroes and here, although we may admire and sympathize with Latif, it is Uday and his violence and unpredictability that make for the films most memorable moments.
With so much screen time for Cooper, it is natural that the other characters slip into the background. Ludivine Sagnier plays a prostitute in Uday’s circle of power who flirts with both Uday and Latif, but her character and motives are very underwritten.
Philip Quast is a commanding Saddam, but is necessarily a background figure in this story.
The story loses it’s way in the middle and lack of a defined ending that is often a fault with stories based on true events, and threaten to weaken the impact towards the end.
But ultimately it is left to Dominic Cooper to carry the film and for the most part he succeeds admirably. Never caricatured, he plays both his roles with the right amount of menace and believability. It is no mean feat to play both the “Devil” and his double and still leave the double with some of the “best tunes”.