Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Devil's Double (2011)

      How crazy can a character be without even meaningfully touching on the horrific things the real person did before he was killed?
     Perhaps because The Devil's Double (2011) does not want to be so aggressively unpleasant, it shies away from more graphic and honest representations of Uday Hussein's many crimes against humanity.  Sure, he talks about them and there is some idea as to what the aftermath, but the end result is that baby Hussein feels more like a comic book villain than real-life terror.  Maybe that has something to do with the less than sinister giggle that Dominic Cooper gives him.
     Whatever its faults, The Devil's Double at least looks crisp, almost slick, when it delves into Uday's world.  It feels a little false that Baghdad has Beruit-like discotheques, or that cocaine is the drug of choice, but it is entirely possible that both represent an approximation of reality.  More to the point, those scenes seemed to be included to make The Devil's Double more analogous to Scarface (1983).  While those scenes look good, they take away much of the urgency that should be at the heart of the story.
     What is a man supposed to do when there is no appeal to justice, or even sanity?  That is what should be moving The Devil's Double forward, but occasionally the film seems to forget this.  The film's Iraq is run as a criminal enterprise, and Uday has little to do but abduct underage girls (to rape and have killed), drink and do drugs, and force a former classmate to both bear witness to his many crimes and act as a stand-in for the baby Hussein.  Latif (also Cooper) is given no choice but to become the property of Uday.  He has no one to trust and nowhere that can be a safe escape.
     It is also odd that Saddam Hussein is portrayed as a man who absolutely forbids anyone from harming his sons, is more than willing to brutalize Uday himself, but is largely restrained and disaffected.  While this adds to the feeling of him as a crime boss, it does not sell him as the murderous leader of a nation.  It is not clear how some of the people who work for the Husseins – both the quasi-virtuous and downright worthless – come to their positions because Saddam in never really shown doing or supervising anything.  His diminished presence makes the film feel too light.
     I would have liked for the movie to have been a little grittier and involved in the insanity of Uday.  Or even the toll Latif takes on just witnessing the events.  But The Devil's Double cannot find a satisfactory tone or consistent primary angle, and it ends up being an interesting disappointment.

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