Thank you America and its Allies for damaging our countries and collecting the spoils.. We the people and our Nations pay the price..
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.
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.
Undeniably fascinating as a visit to a world you’d never have wanted to have come near in real life — that of the Hussein family’s inner sanctum — the film falls crucially short by not providing a window into the mind of the man who was coerced into acting as his double. Dominic Cooper’s riveting double performance and the lurid, beyond-“Scarface” sensationalism are the main selling points for a film to which it will still be difficult to lure a wide public.
A drunken, drug-fueled, gun-toting, short-tempered party boy, torturer, rapist and murderer, Uday, with unlimited funds at his disposal and never properly reined in by his disapproving father, would routinely cruise schools in his Porsche or Ferrari, pick up 14-year-old girls, have his way with them and then have their bodies dumped by a roadside. On a whim, he’d drop by a wedding ceremony and demand to defile the bride on the spot. Intensely psychotic, he threw endless bacchanalian parties, reveled in torture videos and avoided anything resembling official responsibilities.
He was widely despised, of course, and, as with his father, it was thought advisable that he have a double to cover for him, throw off potential attackers and so on. In the late 1980s, toward the end of Iraq’s long war with Iran, it was the misfortune of army lieutenant Latif Yahia to be handpicked to fill the job, the full dimensions of which would have been hard to foresee.
With the fate of his family held over him if he declines, Latif undergoes plastic surgery and dental work to enhance the resemblance, learns to match Uday’s higher-pitched voice and vocal patterns, acquires a double of his wardrobe and is installed in a life of luxury, including a selection of women, while always being on call if needed. Mostly, he’s just another member of Uday’s sinister entourage, passed off humorously as Saddam’s “third son” (curiously little is seen of the dictator’s actual other son, Qusay).
Guided through his paces by a wise old mentor, Munem (Raad Rawi), Latif clearly disapproves of Uday and his sleazy lifestyle, but there’s nothing he can do except sullenly go along. Unfortunately, director Lee Tamahori and screenwriter Michael Thomas (“The Hunger,” “Scandal”) aren’t able to make Latif the viewer’s confidant, to effect a viewer’s personal connection to his strange odyssey; instead, one is simply left a spectator at a Roman circus.
One way to supply this would have been a Latif voice-over, perhaps in the style of Ray Liotta’s in “GoodFellas.” Another would have been a deeper, more revealing liaison between Latif and Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), Uday’s main squeeze, who dares to launch a relationship with his double. Given that there can be no secrets in this world, how this affair is allowed to continue is never explained, but a more intimate connection between the two might have provided the lacking human dimension.
When the U.S. steps in to aid Kuwait, Uday rails against the enemy but sends Latif to the front to rally the troops instead of going himself. Outrage follows outrage until, finally, Latif manages an escape, leading to a dramatic climax that ends the film well before Uday’s death during the American invasion years later.
Tamahori makes sure there’s never a dull moment, although the succession of mindless disco parties, coke snorting, assaults on helpless women, psychotic rants and unmotivated violence has a cumulative deadening and depressing effect that is never leavened by an artistic vision or historical take on the grim spectacle. Although energetic and visually and aurally dynamic, this feels like a job of work rather than something more ambitious and felt from the inside.
With shooting in Iraq impossible, the filmmakers found an unexpectedly effective substitute in Malta. Having just worked on Green Zone, production designer Paul Kirby has done a terrific job creating both the grand exteriors and ornately vulgar interiors of the Hussein regime, an effect elaborated by Anna Sheppard’s costume designs and Sam McCurdy’s cinematography. Christian Henson’s score and various source music choices are effective at generating a dark, turbulent mood.
In utter command of both roles, Cooper differentiates between the two beautifully, suggesting Latif’s necessarily restrained natural cockiness and seething resentment at his lot in life while letting out all the stops as the mercurial Uday. He’s really the whole show, although it’s too bad the script restrained him from further illuminating Latif’s inner self.
The film doesn’t mention that, in real life, Uday and Latif had been schoolmates and that their close resemblance had been noted since youth. Furthermore, the third act particulars of Latif’s escape and subsequent events seem to have been fabricated out of whole cloth. Latif’s autobiography was published in 1997 but only became an international best seller after 9/11.
VENUE: Sundance Film Festival, Premieres
PRODUCTION: Corsan, Corrino, Statccato production
CAST: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Mimoun Oaissa, Raad Rawi, Philip Quast, Khalid Laith
DIRECTOR: Lee Tamahori
SCREENWRITER: Michael Thomas, based on the life story of Latif Yahia
PRODUCERS: Paul Breuls, Michael John Fedun, Emjay Rechsteiner, Catherine Vandeleene
EXECUTIVE PRFODUCERS, Harris Tulchin, Arjen Terpstra
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Sam McCurdy
PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Paul Kirby
COSTUME DESIGNER: Anna Sheppard
MUSIC: Christian Henson
EDITOR: Luis Carballar
SALES: Corsan World Sales
No rating, 108 minutes