Uday Hussein’s many vices and wanton sadism appalled even his father. And one man was on hand to witness it all – Uday’s unwilling ‘body double’
By: Colin Freeman
The siege of the Iraqi mansion lasted five hours, starting with a loudspeakered call to surrender and ending with the crash of missiles from a United States helicopter gunship. By the time it was over, half the house’s wedding cake-style facade was missing, affording the media a unique, through-the-rocket-hole tour when they were finally allowed near it.
Inside we found an elegant inner balcony splintered with bullets, and for anyone with a knowledge of gangster movies, one scene sprang to mind: the closing shots of Scarface, where Al Pacino’s drug baron makes his famous last stand.
“That film was mentioned a couple of times,” grinned Lieutenant Colonel Rick Carlson, commander of a unit involved in the raid, when I put this to him later.
So came the spectacular demise of Saddam Hussein’s notorious sons Uday and Qusay, whose lives resembled a real-life gangster flick, and whose deaths in July 2003 produced one of the few moments of universal good cheer in the ever-mounting gloom of post-war Iraq. For the US military, it was a much-needed morale boost in a steadily fraying mission, netting both the Ace of Hearts and the Ace of Clubs in the “Deck of 55” most wanted. For Iraqis, meanwhile, it meant the passing of two of the regime’s most feared men – in particular Uday, whose psychotic, unhinged brutality made his father look statesmanlike.
Yet as celebratory gunfire erupted over Baghdad, Latif Yahia, a 39-year-old former commando, was one of the few Iraqis who didn’t reach for his Kalashnikov. Not just because he was thousands of miles away in exile in England, where assault rifles are still frowned upon as party poppers, but because he didn’t want to cheer. He wanted to cry.
“The Americans should have taken Uday alive,” he tells me now. “I wanted him to face trial, so that I could tell the world what he had done, all the killing.”
Playboy, murderer, and sadist extraordinaire, Saddam’s elder son left no shortage of people with horror stories to tell in his wake. Yet for Latif, the trauma of his encounter with him was uniquely personal, one that still haunts him every time he looks in the mirror. For back in 1987, after noticing his striking likeness to Saddam’s son, Iraq’s secret service picked him to be Uday’s “fiday”, or body double, a job that involved becoming the living, breathing copy of the nation’s greatest hate figure.
Being the stand-in man on any occasion where Uday feared one of his many enemies might assassinate him was just one of Latif’s occupational hazards. Far worse was the window it gave him into the ruling family’s inner circle, attending Uday’s debauched parties, mixing with his entourage of pimps and thugs, and looking on as his doppelganger rampaged with impunity. And, to his ultimate horror and guilt, sometimes enjoying it.
“Until now, I haven’t slept properly because of thinking about him,” he said. “I am stuck with Uday for the rest of my life, and will probably take him with me to my grave.”
Now, though, 19 years after fleeing Iraq and claiming asylum in Europe, Latif has another chance to give Uday’s crimes an airing, and, hopefully, give his designer-stubbled, Ray Ban-wearing demon a final exorcism.
The Devil’s Double, released this week, is a film loosely-based on Uday’s early life – shot entirely from the point of view of his body double. Coming in the wake of Green Zone and the Hurt Locker, it is the first major Iraq movie to explore life in the ruling clan. And while Uday played no real role in the wider political drama of the war, he proves an illuminating focus point, being in many ways the personification of the regime’s dark side. Addicted to drink, sex and violence in equal measure, he was despised even more than his father – as I myself found when I was a correspondent based in Baghdad after the war.
On the hot July night that news emerged that he had been killed, the Iraqi capital erupted with so much gunfire that I thought a full-scale insurrection had broken out; by contrast, the celebrations when Saddam was caught five months later were more muted.
Iraqis used to tell me that their worst nightmare was Uday inheriting power, a fear that was not without justification, if the words that Latif claimed his employer once said to him are anything to go by: “Just wait till I’m president, I’ll be crueller than my father. You will often remember these words, and yearn for the days of Saddam Hussein.”
Starring Dominic Cooper as both Uday and Latif, the film is directed by Lee Tamahori, best known for his portrayal of violence within New Zealand’s Maori community in Once Were Warriors. The mayhem in that, however, is nothing compared to the savagery in The Devil’s Double. It applies the gangster movie blueprint to an entire country, replacing the Mafia with the Hussein clan, although Uday is far more crazed than anything Coppola or Scorsese have so far conjured up.
In one horrific scene, he uses a carving knife to stab to death Kamel Hannah, his father’s personal pimp, at a party attended by the wife of the recently-deposed Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. The incident is entirely authentic, according to Latif, save for the minor detail that Uday actually used an electric rose pruner that he had at his side. Even so, Latif says the violence has been toned down.
“The movie shows 20 per cent of what really happened, at most,” he says. “On one occasion, in a jail back in ’91, I remember Uday dealing with a Shia prisoner who had been involved in the uprising against Saddam after the first Gulf War. He said: ‘I won’t kill you by the gun,’ and instead put a drill through his head. When he’d finished, he looked around and said: ‘This is what happens to those who stand up against us.’ They killed half the people in that jail, and put the bodies in among those still alive. Then they released the survivors, just so they could tell other Iraqis what they’d seen.”
Latif first met Uday in 1979, when the two were at the Baghdad College High School for Boys, the country’s answer to Eton. The Iraq of that time was a very different place: Saddam, newly in power, was still relatively popular, having used Iraq’s oil money to create one of the Middle East’s most developed countries, while Baghdad was the region’s party capital, full of bars, discos and nightclubs.
Even then, Iraq’s First Family were a law unto themselves. Latif’s teachers learnt this the hard way when Uday first turned up at school, surrounded by five bodyguards. Having turned a blind eye to his habit of throwing chalk at them during lessons, and parking his yellow Porsche in the school’s basketball court, one teacher finally protested when Uday brought a girlfriend into class. “The teacher told Uday this was forbidden in an all-boys school,” recalls Latif. “He was never seen again.”
A keen painter, Latif won Uday’s friendship after drawing a portrait of Saddam, but knew to keep his distance. When university beckoned, he even switched to reading law when learning that Uday had enrolled on the same engineering course.
Then, one day in September 1987, while serving at the front during the Iran-Iraq war, he was whisked by limousine to a palace in Baghdad, where Uday, sat in a white leather armchair and smoking one of his trademark Montecristo No 6 cigars, told him of the top-secret plan to make him his “fiday”. After all, his father had been using one for years. “I want you to be me. Everywhere, always,” he said. It was an order, not a request. When Latif at first refused, he was thrown for days into a blood-encrusted jail cell with no lavatory. When he still protested, Uday threatened to feed his sisters to his pet dogs.
Thus began his secret service-organised “training programme”. He and Uday already bore a sharp resemblance to each other, with the same round eyes, thick eyebrows and slightly curly hair. But nothing was left to chance. To start, there was cosmetic surgery – a cleft added to the chin, and dental treatment to mimic Uday’s bucktoothed grin, which even gave him Uday’s distinctive lisp as well. To be really convincing, though, he also had to study the unique Uday school of deportment, honing, as he puts it, a “supercilious, dictatorial arrogance”.
How to mimic Uday’s childlike giggle, cocky stride and slovenly manners, always sitting slumped rather than straight up. How to greet people with a studied stare, and make his point by gesturing with a revolver. How to cruise around Baghdad in a different Porsche, Ferrari or Lamborghini every day, which also had to match whichever loud designer suit he was wearing. How to cradle a Montecristo between middle and index fingers, and knock back vast quantities of Dimple, the unsophisticated Scotch that was Uday’s favourite. And how, when attending discos, to up the tempo by blasting a few gunshots into the ceiling. For Latif, though, the hardest part of the fakery was played on his own family. He signed a contract saying he would never, on pain of execution, tell anyone that he was Uday’s double; this included his parents, who were told he had gone missing at the front, and whom he was forbidden from seeing again.
At first, being Uday had benefits. Latif was billeted in a five-star apartment with four full-time servants, its own bar, and a wardrobe packed with Uday’s hand-tailored clothes. He was also introduced to Saddam himself, or a man he assumes was him: one scene in the film shows the Iraqi leader playing tennis with his own double, the two impossible to be tol apart. But the scales soon fell from Latif’s eyes as he saw at first hand Uday’s appalling behaviour, which was normally covered up by Iraq’s state-controlled press.
Saddam’s son ran his own dark empire in Iraq, controlling the lucrative underworld smuggling rackets that thrived during the years of UN sanctions. His vast wealth allowed him to buy hundreds of cars, stashed all over Baghdad in underground garages and torched once the US invaded so nobody else could own them. (Uday employed somebody just to scour the internet for photos of new or collectable cars, which were then placed in a ring binder. He employed his own fisherman and two lion-tamers, too.)
He also ran the Iraqi Olympic Committee – the only one in the world that had its own jail, where athletes who did badly in international contests would be tortured using increasingly elaborate methods Uday had found on the internet. Worst of all, though, was his penchant for kerb-crawling around Baghdad.
Like Uday’s request for Latif to become his “fiday”, proposals of a quick night of romance with the president’s son were not negotiable. Dozens of girls would be paraded before him at the Baghdad Boat Club every night, and most would end up in his bedroom. Those who refused were abducted by his bodyguards and raped, first by Uday, and then by his henchmen. (It’s said he never slept with the same girl more than three times.)
Latif chronicles several such incidents in his book I Was Saddam’s Son, including the events of one notorious night at Habbaniya, a resort in Iraq’s western desert. Spotting a woman on honeymoon, Uday dragged her up to his sixth-floor hotel room, where he beat and raped her.
“Afterwards, he comes grinning out of the bedroom, pours himself a brandy and goes on chatting as though nothing had happened,” Latif writes. “Suddenly, we hear a long shrill scream that goes on forever. I dash into the bedroom, and see the door open to the balcony… she jumped from the sixth floor because she couldn’t stand the shame. What could I have done? Uday’s bodyguards, who almost derived more pleasure from their boss’s acts of cruelty than he did himself, would have killed me.”
So what made Uday so crazy? The Devil’s Double doesn’t dwell on this too much, but Latif has theories of his own. For all that Uday’s childhood was spoilt and overindulged, he points out, it was also traumatic.
Saddam, he claims, inducted Uday into the ways of the “family firm” from a young age, taking him to his first public execution aged just five, and, aged ten, showing him videos of regime opponents being tortured. Living up to family expectations was also hard. After all, when your father has already grabbed the titles of President, High Excellency, and Conqueror of All Iraq, there is very little left to achieve.
“This evil man, this gangster, he would cry like a baby when he was drunk, and talk about how his father ignored him,” says Latif. “He was close to his dad, but after he murdered Kamel Hannah [the pimp killed with a rose pruner], Saddam started favouring his brother Qusay to take over from him. At that time Uday also got rid of all his professional bodyguards, and just had pimps and thugs around him. That made things even worse.”
Things got worse for Latif too, as anger over the gassing of the Kurds in 1988 and disastrous 1991 Gulf War defeat made the ruling family more unpopular. He suffered two assassination attempts during public engagements on his boss’s behalf, nearly losing a finger in a grenade blast. When he returned to Baghdad for treatment, however, Uday’s only concern was that he too may have to forfeit a finger if his double’s digit couldn’t be saved. The film eventually depicts Latif escaping Iraq with one of Uday’s former girlfriends, Sarrab, and as the closing credits point out, “the rest is history”.
Minus his double, Uday spent his final years paralysed from the waist down after being shot while out cruising for girls one day, although even that does not seem to have curbed his lust. When US troops searched his various hide-outs after the war, they reportedly found Viagra, porn movies and an HIV testing kit, as well as millions of dollars’ worth of fine wine and a heroin stash.
Latif, who now lives and blogs in Belgium, joined the exiled anti-Saddam opposition, although to this day, he insists the US-led invasion was a mistake, simply replacing one gangster clique with many. “I knew it would put Sunni and Shia and Kurd against each other,” he says. “Now you have lots of people all wanting to behave like Saddam and Uday.”
Nor does he wish ever to return to his home country, whatever rosy claims are made in the West about it now becoming a democracy. Because from his own bitter experience, the problem is not just the thugs who tend to hog power in Iraq, but the willingness of the people to follow them slavishly.
“The problem is not Iraq as a country, but the people. I am sorry to say this, but if you read the history of Iraq, you will see it has been like this for 7,000 years – that is to say,
a–holes, clapping their hands for anyone, and selling their mothers for money. It will take 50 years, maybe more, to change the place.”
The Devil’s Double opens in cinemas on Friday
They forced me to stand in for Saddam’s son. I escaped—but never got my revenge.
July 17, 2011
During the late 1980s, I was working as an officer in the Iraqi Army when my commanding general received a letter that demanded I report to a palace in Baghdad within 72 hours. When I went to the palace, I was brought to see Uday Hussein, Saddam’s older son. “I want you to be my fiday,” he said. In Arabic, fiday means body double or bullet catcher. I didn’t understand. “Do you want me to be your bodyguard?” I asked. “No,” he said. “Our intelligence service says we look like each other, and I want you to work as my double.”
I felt like somebody had hit me in the head with a hammer. “Do I have a choice?” I asked, thinking this was somehow a joke. “If you refuse,” Uday said, “you can go back to the Army. We don’t have a problem with you.” It was a lie. As soon as I left the palace, his guards threw me in the trunk of a car and took me to jail. Everything was painted red inside the cell to make you stressed and remind you of blood. A completely red room is also disorienting.
They kept me in this jail for a week before Uday asked to see me again; he was trying to torture me psychologically. This time he threatened to rape my sisters, who were only little girls at the time. “I’ll do it, but leave my family alone,” I told him. And that’s when it all started.
After that, I often saw rape, torture, killings. The torture was really sick when Uday was doing it. One time I was sitting in the Iraqi Olympic Committee office, and the father of a girl Uday had raped was brought in. She was a beauty queen—Miss Baghdad. The father had tried to complain to Saddam, so Uday wanted to take revenge. He asked me to shoot the guy in the head, but I refused. He said, “I’m ordering you—shoot him!” I went crazy. I grabbed a knife and cut my wrists in front of him. He was shocked. I was taken to the hospital, and Uday never asked me to shoot anyone again after that.
I escaped Iraq in the early 1990s. But I spent five years afterward in counseling and psychological treatment, dealing with the things I saw: torture and kidnapping of girls, rape, and all these things. Once I tried to commit suicide by taking tablets; another time I tried to hang myself. I was so depressed. I was taking a lot of Valium to calm down. Even now I don’t get to sleep until 5 or 6 in the morning. I always have nightmares. When you live in the West, you don’t see things like torture.
In 2003 I was watching the news in my office in Manchester, England, when I heard that Uday had been killed by American soldiers. I had a cup of coffee in my hand, and I smashed it straight into the TV. I was very angry. I didn’t want to see Uday get killed. I wanted him to be tried in court, to be tried for his crimes. I wanted to be in court to be able to say, “Look at what this guy did to me.” I wanted justice. But it never happened.
A movie based on Yahia’s Life, The Devil’s Double, opens in the U.S. this month.
Tired of those run-of-the-mill biopics and staid Iraq war dramas that avoid sensationalism out of respect for their subjects? Want a peek into the orgiastic, debauched, ultra-violent underbelly of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? Director Lee Tamahori brought all that and more to an unsuspecting audience — and conjured his own comparisons to David Fincher’s The Social Network, naturally — with The Devil’s Double, the guiltiest thrill of Sundance 2011.
Based very, very loosely on the life of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi lieutenant enlisted to double for Saddam’s out-of-control elder son Uday, The Devil’s Double stars Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia!) in a bravura dual performance as both the monster and his innocent stand-in. Forced into indentured servitude under pain of torture and threats to his family, and transformed into a perfect doppelganger through plastic surgery and mimicry lessons, Cooper’s stoic Latif watches disapprovingly as Uday rapes and murders his way through life in a coke-fueled psychopathic haze, a pistol-waving, sex-obsessed, wild-eyed, magnetic thug with a penchant for schoolgirls and no interest in becoming the responsible heir apparent to his stern, menacing father. Whenever Uday is incapacitated or lazy, he sends Latif to make speeches to the troops; eventually, when Latif has had enough, he takes Uday’s favorite mistress (Ludivine Sagnier) as his own. The two men are brothers in Uday’s perverse way of thinking, and the only way Latif will ever escape his enslavement is in death.
Though he plays fast and loose with the facts, Tamahori claims to get the most important details right: The well-documented horrors of life inside the palace walls, where even honored guests and confidantes of Saddam were in danger of Uday’s explosive, violent rage; Uday’s proclivity for abusing his power to kidnap, rape, and murder young girls. (A brief scene in which Latif comes across the sight of two Saddams playing tennis is a comically bizarre break from the brutality.) The Devil’s Double is a portrait of a monster, no doubt, and yet the movie indicates he’s nothing in comparison to his father.
That sense for the corruption and danger that hung in the air during the Hussein family regime is what lingers most, even after Tamahori’s tale flies off the rails and enters almost legendary WTF? status. First comes the melodramatic love triangle, brought to the edge of campiness by Ludivine Sagnier’s anti-subtle turn as the sultry minx Sarrab (perhaps the film’s most egregiously ridiculous bit of non-ethnic casting, but hey). Then there’s the bombastic lovers’ escape, in which Sarrab and Latif literally ride off triumphantly on horseback. But nothing compares to how Tamahori ends it all by channeling his own James Bond past, transforming the epic-scale gangster pic into an all-out spy actioner, slo-mo shoot-outs and sexy hero shots and all. (Or, as an astute writer pal put it, “It’s a real life version of Medellin.”)
Tamahori took the stage after his Sundance premiere to answer a lot of questions. Portraying Latif Yahia’s story in its factual details was never the plan, for starters. “I’m not a great fan of truth in film,” he explained, lauding Michael Thomas’s “odd and twisted” screenplay.
Though many of the scenes of torture, rape, and killing in the film came from actual documented events, the real Uday’s crimes “are all worse than we possibly could have portrayed.” (Tamahori sent a ripple through the crowd when he suggested, unflinchingly, that the unruly, power-hungry children of despots across the world should be lined up against a wall and shot.)
And finally, the first person to compare Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double to The Social Network was, of course, Lee Tamahori. While Fincher pulled a digital facelift to allow his two Winklevii to share the screen, Tamahori and star Cooper (whose impressive turns as Uday and Latif are like night and day) used a variation on the technique to shoot the film’s many Latif-Uday scenes, filming a master shot in one character first, then editing for sound and throwing Cooper back in to play the second part in the same day.
Will Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double earn Social Network-level plaudits when it’s eventually released? (A deal with Lionsgate is reportedly close.) Probably not. The material’s just too insane. But let’s be real: That’s exactly why it will appeal to many. Because as much as The Devil’s Double is about the innocent man who lived to tell the tale, it’s the most revealing, rape-y, torture-filled, excessively gaudy inside look at Iraq’s unstable family of thugs that we’re likely to ever get. The film itself falls prone to the sensory indulgences of its maker, but at a certain point it no longer matters whether that’s by design or not.
27 January, 2011 |
The studio has closed a deal for North American rights on Lee Tamahori’s widely admired thriller, ending several days of conversations between the film’s representatives and multiple suitors.
Lionsgate is understood to have agreed to a substantial seven-figure MG and p&a commitment and is planning a significant theatrical release and awards campaign centred on British talent Dominic Cooper’s breakout role as Uday Hussein and his body double Latif Yahia. Ludivine Sagnier also stars.
Paradigm Motion Picture Group and CAA jointly handled North American rights and Corsan international sales head Pascal Borno closed a deal with Icon for Australia and New Zealand at the festival.
Lionsgate beat several rival bids and entered exclusive negotiations with the representatives in the small hours of Wednesday . As first reported on Screendaily, Relativity and Summit both circled the project but did not pursue it aggressively. Several other buyers are believed to have come in with bids.
Corsan head Paul Breuls produced The Devil’s Double with Catherine Vandeleene, Michael John Fedun and Emjay Rechsteiner.
By Matt Patches , Special to Hollywood.com
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
In 2010, Dominic Cooper made a big splash opposite Carey Mulligan in the Oscar-nominated An Education. The role showed off his suave, dapper side, but in his latest film, the Sundance debut The Devil’s Double, Cooper really sinks his teeth into a role (or in this case, roles) and pushes himself to the extreme.
The Devil’s Double tells the story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi military officer recruited to become the fiday, or body double, of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical son Uday. Cooper plays two distinct roles in the film: the conflicted Latif, who struggles to take on his new job, and the murderous party animal Uday. The film is insane, to put it lightly, and the crazed tone is in part to Cooper’s disappearance into the two men’s stranger-than-fiction world.
I read it, with the understanding that someone else had the part that it might fall through. I read it knowing that it had been around for many, many years, many directors had been attached, It was a script that stuck in my head. I was fascinated by how little I knew of something that affected so much of my life and the world, and ultimately, it was this mad gangster movie and the opportunity for an actor to play both those roles.
I was unsure about the person I heard doing the part at the time, it didn’t make sense to me. I managed to get into a room with Lee [Tamahori, director] and I auditioned for hours with him. I brought into the room something I thought this person was and who the other person was, and next thing I knew…I was doing it. It was the most exciting moment in the work I’ve done so far.
Were there resources to help you better understand how this world operated? To give insight into living out both Latif and Uday’s lives?
No, there was nothing to like that. The difficulty for me was to understand and have compassion for this person, which I think you have to do when you’re playing someone. When you’re inhabiting someone, looking through their eyes and understanding their complexities.
With this guy, I couldn’t. I couldn’t understand him – he was a madman, a berserk man that needed help. Everything he did was disgusting and atrocious. It wasn’t necessarily about him, they became more fictional characters. I think that was important for me and Lee both to kind and reach a point and use this as an incredible story but we don’t know what they said we don’t know the relationship they had. We’re making a film. And this is not meant to be stooped in the real truth. Lee said the only truth in this film is that the US got him. That’s the one fact that we know of this story.
That’s evident in the film. You’re constantly wondering what’s real because the tone jumps from gritty realism to over-the-top, often comedic levels. Uday is executing these insane operations and one minute you’re laughing, the next, you’re horrified. How did you balance the tones of the film?
That’s why you need to be in the hands of a genius like Lee, with this kind of material. An actor doesn’t know that. That’s why I have to rely on him for the tone and sensibility of the piece. I don’t know what he’s going for. I can kind of get a vague understanding. I didn’t know he was making a outrageous, horrific gangster film. What I knew is that he made the most stunning debut film with Once Were Warriors, and I knew that, if any one can handle that kind of material and those people, and can understand how those gangsters type tribal people. then he is the person to do it. And my job is to come up with something that fitted with that environment. And although sometimes humorous because you’re so baffled and amazed that this human exists.
Were there moments where you wanted to pull back but Lee pushed you to go further?
I think it was a matter of bringing it down. He kept me very still, that was very helpful. It was his actual energy on set that was so inspiring. It was a short shoot, relatively cheap, and we had a lot to do. Technically it was difficult because of the doubling up of the scenes.
What was the process of shooting two roles in one scene? Were you constantly repeating the setups and blocking?
Yes, and that was why you only really got three takes on anything. Some people like to go on and do take after take, I couldn’t do that. There wasn’t time. It wasn’t stressful, I loved it. And you watched him and he had to create a new environment. It would be like…Lee wasn’t allowed to use this position or camera angle. And he was completely reconfiguring his ideas and I always think that creates the most creative inspired work and its constantly moving. Watching him with the amount of decisions he had to make, [laughs] I kind of felt my job is kind of easy.
What challenges did you face embodying two separate roles, bouncing between characters on a whim?
I needed to make one who is watching it believe it is two different people no matter how much reconstructive surgery one of them had had and how much they needed to look the same which they did, it was difficult to decide who was who. I needed them to be clearly two different people, I got help from my wonderful dialect coach, I got help with the make-up lady. It was about making a vocal difference and physical difference and the way in which the two characters thought differently.
Oh, definitely. The one that Latif had to transform into. I wanted here to be an intricate difference in the way he went to perform as Uday. I wanted him to be slightly different still. Not quite succeeding whole heartily in becoming him – there was still something holding him back. That’s why when you see him practicing in the mirror there’s still this tentativeness about him. He was not a showman, not an actor. There was no reason he should have been able to manipulate who he is. He did it to the best of his ability and I needed that to be clear.
What’s next for you? Anything in the can?
My Week With Marilyn with Kenneth Branagh. And Captain America.
That must have been a bit bigger than what you were accustom to.
It was massive – and intriguing.
You play Howard Stark in the film, a character with a wealth of comic mythology. What does your role in the actual film entail?
He moves the story along. He transforms him into Captain America. He’s Iron Man’s dad! He was a playboy, it was fun. How much he winds up in the film, who knows. But I hope he has an affect on it.
The story of Uday is told through the eyes of a man forced to bear witness to this regime-sanctioned psychotic, Latif Ahmed, who became Uday’s body double.
Cooper ably plays both roles – the former, who charges through each scene on the verge of hysteria and/or violence. And the other, a quiet observer who seethes through the depravities he must silently accept, lending every scene an underpinning of morality. (Resistance would have meant death to his family, torture for him.)
Before the screening began I ran into an agent who described it a “Three Kings meets Scarface meets Goodfellas.”
That about hits it. Back in 2003, on the day that Uday and his younger brother Qusay were murdered, I wrote an essay about the stories that swept through Baghdad about them, having recently returned from a reporting stint in Iraq. (It’s still posted )
At the time I wrote: “Doesn’t anyone see a television movie in this?”
Director Lee Tamahori did see a movie in it; and some critics and buyers who saw the film felt that it played too much like television – melodramatic and unidimensional.
But on second glance, the story gives us a moral center in Latif and a context for thinking about the consequences of our foreign policy – not just the 2003 invasion, but the choice not to topple Saddam back in 1990, and our support of that regime through the Iran-Iraq conflict.
Those decisions helped create this monster. Uday and his brother were finally hunted down and shot. But it took until 2003, and the terror they wrought on their own people was no small price for the residents of this ancient land.
As Tamahori said in the q&a after the premiere screening this weekend, “There’s not much of a message here other than: Despots have children that run out of control and we should put them up against the wall and shoot them.”
Count on this one getting bought, and appearing in theaters some time this year.