Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Mem Ferda, Dar Salim, Khalid Laith, Pano Masti, Nasser Memarzia, Philip Quast, Selva Rasalingam, Mark Mifsud, Mimoun Oaïssa, Stewart Scudamore, Jamie Harding, Akin Gazi
Written by: Michael Thomas, based on the life story of Latif Yahia
Directed by: Lee Tamahori
MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal bloody violence and torture, sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and pervasive language
Running Time: 108
Date: 01/22/2011

The Devil's Double (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hussein in the Brain

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Devil's Double has a great story at its center. In the late 1980s, Latif Yahia was summoned to the Presidential Palace in Iraq. There he met his old classmate, Uday Hussein, eldest son of Saddam Hussein, and was asked to be Uday's body double. Or rather, he was persuaded. There were several adventures thereafter, including a daring escape.

Sadly, the New Zealand-born director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, Next) -- who has been in Hollywood since 1996 -- has turned this story into a routine gangster film, complete with a gangster's girlfriend that falls in love with the trapped, helpless stooge; the plot goes at least all the way back to Gilda (1946), and perhaps earlier.

The best thing here is Dominic Cooper (currently in Captain America), who plays both the maniacal, psychopathic Uday -- who possesses and destroys young women like a hobby -- and Latif, who is sober and sad. Like David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (1988), the story requires both characters to share the screen quite often, and the movie has very good, if not entirely seamless visual effects. If the ploy works at all, it's because of Cooper's awesome performance; it's amazing to see Latif react in disbelief and disgust at his alter ego's antics.

French-born Ludivine Sagnier plays Sarrab, Uday's current girl of choice (and therefore forbidden), under thick wigs and thicker eyeliner. She's clearly a late addition to the story, and the movie sometimes doesn't know what to do with her. (She's no Gilda.) Is she reckless, or cautious? Is she a good guy or a bad guy? It doesn't matter; the story needs a girl to help sell it. Similarly, the movie is spoken in English, which -- in this day and age -- feels like a lazy choice.

The Devil's Double is shiny and glittery, gleaming with pretty clothes, girls, cars, watches and shoes. The Iraqi sun -- filmed in Malta -- is bright and sharp, providing a different kind of mood than the usual dark gangster or film noir version of this story. It's controlled craziness that never feels very crazy or very controlled. As Latif mopes within the party atmosphere, the entire mood slowly grows sour and stale, and the movie feels much longer than it really is.

It leaves me to wonder if this one-sided movie will be where the widest audience gets their history of Iraq and its various conflicts, and if so, that's sad.

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