Based on a frankly terrifying true story, The Devil’s Double (Icon) examines the life and times of Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper, Mamma Mia), an Iraqi soldier who is enlisted by Uday Hussein (also played by Cooper), Saddam’s eldest son, to work as Uday’s body double on account of the uncanny resemblance between the two men.
Understandably reluctant to participate in the scheme, Latif is mercilessly tortured and finds the safety of his nearest and dearest threatened. With no choice but to comply, Latif immerses himself in the bizarre role, and becomes an integral part of the sordid circus of devastation that follows Uday wherever he goes. As an essentially decent man in an impossible situation, the behaviour that Latif witnesses stains his conscience, and he is eventually forced to take drastic action to redress the balance. But can he escape unscathed before the demented Uday drags him even further into the moral mire?
Devil’s Double director Lee Tamahori has enjoyed a patchy career, rarely hitting the highs exhibited in his gritty debut feature Once Were Warriors in 1994 (although he did helm the 2002 Bond movie Die Another Day, in what was arguably the highest profile engagement of his career). However, the New Zealander saw his Hollywood career stutter after his 2006 arrest for offering to perform a sex act on an undercover cop while dressed in drag, and has struggled to wrestle his career back on track in the ensuing years. (As if proof were needed, his last movie was the disturbingly bad Nicolas Cage vehicle Next.) Happily, the electric Devil’s Double finds a re-energised Tamahori back on top form. Buoyed by a sensational two-pronged performance from Cooper, the movie is as sleazy and violent as any you will see this year. Although the narrative congeals slightly at the end, the job is done by then, and all involved emerge with their reputations boosted considerably. Overall: a quirky, unhinged gangster drama.
Kill List (Studio Canal) is the latest feature-film from director Ben Wheatley, who earned considerable acclaim for his debut movie, kitchen-sink gangster yarn Down Terrace, last year. Eight months after a disastrous job in Kiev left him physically and mentally scarred, ex-soldier turned contract-killer, Jay (Neil Maskell, Football Factory), is pressured by his partner, Gal (Michael Smiley, Burke & Hare) and his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring, The Descent) into taking on a new assignment in an effort to shrug off his lethargy and earn some money. However, the mission quickly spirals out of control, and family-man Jay struggles to keep his emotions in check as they discover more about the seedy lives of the trio of targets named on the titular ‘kill list’. Halfway through the mission, Jay and Gal approach their sinister paymaster with a view to backing out of the contract, but it isn’t that easy, and the increasingly nasty endeavour goes from bad to worse
Despite being lumbered with the kind of revenge-movie-by-numbers title that Steven Seagal would reject for lacking subtlety, Kill List is a quirky, engaging riff on genre filmmaking conventions, with the promising Wheatley blending prosaic everyday scenes with unsettling splashes of English voodoo. Maskell and Smiley both impress as the reluctant contract killers, and deserve to make the transition from bit-part players to household names after their performances here. Although the final third sees Kill List veer loopily into Wicker Man territory (with a grim nod to A Serbian Film in the final reel), for the most part it is an inventive little thriller that transcends its budgetary limitations with aplomb. Not perfect, but well worth seeking out -especially if you have enjoyed other films produced by Sheffield-based production house Warp X.
Reputedly the highest-grossing film in Brazilian history, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Revolver) picks up 13 years after the events depicted in director Jose Padilha’s 2007 original, Elite Squad. Central character Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura) has now been promoted to the role of Lieutenant-Colonel of the BatalhÃ£o de OperaÃ§Ãµes Policiais Especiais (BOPE or Special Police Operations Battalion) of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police force. After a disastrous BOPE intervention in a large-scale prison riot ends in bloodshed, Nascimento’s bosses are keen to hang him out to dry, but public perception is on his side, and the bureaucrats are forced to shuffle the hardnosed ex-cop upstairs. From his vantage point in the corridors of power, Nascimento realises that the corruption destroying Rio starts at the very top and filters down, and bids to wage war on his heavyweight foes, with the help of any BOPE officers (known on the streets as ‘Skulls’) still loyal to the cause.
Whereas 2007’s Elite Squad was a solid -if unspectacular -exercise in action filmmaking, this well-received sequel raises its game, with an ambitious, over-arching narrative that roots out corruption all the way from the slums to the highest level of government. The reactionary politics that saw the first movie roundly criticised in some quarters are still in evidence, but it is testament to director Padilha’s skills that the message never totally swamps the movie. Whether the action is unfolding in the courtrooms or the dust-streaked back-streets, Elite Squad is a slick, evocative thriller that dismantles its corrupt targets piece-by-piece. A mooted third instalment may or may not now happen -earlier this year Padilha was appointed as Darren Aronofsky’s replacement as the director of the upcoming RoboCop reboot -but The Enemy Within serves as a compelling ending to an interesting franchise regardless.