Sleazy, drug-addled, power-besotted psychopaths waving around their guns, driving their ostentatious foreign cars and abducting women from the streets? Some of us call that every Saturday night in Delhi but others may remember that as the time when Uday Saddam Hussein and his goons ruled the streets of Baghdad. And by most accounts, Uday Hussein was such a complete nutjob that you didn’t want to be anywhere in a five-kilometre radius of him, let alone be conscripted as his body double and take a bullet for him.
But that’s what happened to Latif Yahia, an Iraqi everyman who was, unfortunately, born with a striking resemblance to Uday Hussein. Threatened with his family’s death, he was made to undergo cosmetic and dental surgery and received extensive training to become Uday Hussein’s doppelgänger. He attended potentially dangerous events in Uday’s stead, even surviving many assassination attempts. In that course of time, he was made an unwilling spectator to Uday’s excesses and heinous acts of murder, torture and rape, surrounded by silent henchmen and terrified underlings.
The highlight of the film is, without doubt, Dominic Cooper. I’m terribly in awe of people who play twins (I still cant believe Edward Norton did not receive an Oscar nomination for his consummate performance in Leaves of Grass (2010)), but Dominic was not just playing twins: he was playing a man who had to play another man. Pretty meta, but Cooper pulled it off so convincingly that we can no longer taunt him about Mamma Mia!
This ought to have been the Film with Deep Discussions about Iraqi Political and Social Issues, but the film-makers wisely decided to concentrate on the small and sordid world of Uday Hussein’s posse and by doing so, conveyed the atmosphere of the entire nation. Oh, the devil was very much in the details: Latif practising a vitriolic speech about Kuwait in front of a mirror, or hinting at Saddam Hussein’s gradual fall from grace in the Iraqis’ eyes, or little reminders that everybody everywhere was constantly being watched. From the glitziest nightclubs to the meanest cottages, that stench of fear was palpable.
And that’s another very admirable quality about the film: the ability to portray the horror without overly graphic scenes. Just so we aren’t confused, there are plenty of violent scenes. But none of the torture scenes are even half as horrifying as watching Uday Hussein pulling over his Ferrari to ogle school girls. My only criticism of the film is that, in the end it felt too insubstantial. No doubt it was intended to be a tight script with nothing unnecessary, but even so, some parts of the plot felt glossed over and liberties were taken with the timeline in order to have a neat, streamlined film.
The trouble with biopics, especially biopics about politically-contentious issues is that they are always torn apart by the constant nitpicking over factual correctness. There are some reports that Latif’s entire story is bogus and that he’s just some small-time criminal using his looks to leverage book and movie deals. To them I respond: have you taken a look at this chap’s bio? He got himself a PhD in International Law, is now a human rights activist/ citizen of the world, and lists his political views as “Annoying Governments They are Bastards and Corrupt.” To top it all, he’s rocking a goatee and has a pimped out hat! This guy is my new hero. If his story is true, then good for him for getting away from that psycho and making something of himself. If he made it all up, then he’s quite the storyteller. Either way, I don’t care because the result is a riveting film.
Having said that, it does appear that Latif is also prone to that masculine trait of exaggeration (especially when they cannot be conclusively contradicted), so I’d take the whole bit about Latif being far, far more well-endowed than Uday and this causing great concern among the cosmetic surgeons with a large pinch of salt.