Caught up last night with The Devil’s Double (in which Dominic Cooper reminds us that he can act, whilst remaining unaverse to chewing up scenery) and The Guard (in which Brendan Gleeson is unashamed of his pants). Two more dissimilar films may not exist, but we couldn’t face Drive after the bloodied insanity of Usay Hussain.
For those not in the know, The Devil’s Double has pretty boy Cooper playing Saddam’s crazy, sadistic, self-absorbed son and also his quiet, moral, unwilling body double. After all, how do you persuade someone to stand in for you at boring dos and dangerous public appearances? By promising them an extravagant lifestyle and threatening their family, naturally – carrot and stick.
The film is based on the double’s accounts (he survived Uday and fled Iraq before the second Gulf War), so is inevitably one-sided (no question of Yahia being anything but an upstanding citizen in his version).
As long as you buy into this, then this is a simple showcase of the evil we can sink to as Uday abuses schoolgirls, tortures ‘dissidents’ and disembowels lackeys. Yahia becomes less and less willing to stand by, but there’s very little tension in what should be a taut tale of surviving the odds (especially as we all know Yahia must survive to have memoirs, and that Uday doesn’t – his dead face having been plastered across our tabloids during the war).
A good performance from Cooper – and it must have been one hell of a task to shoot – but I’m not entirely sure what this film is doing. The Hussain’s family don’t really need demonization – they took care of that themselves – and Yahia doesn’t really make much of an unsung hero. So this is a garish, gleeful, unpleasant thrill ride, with a side helping of WTF.
The Guard is a small Irish effort with a stunning cast and a very quotable script (although quoting it may get you into trouble in the wrong quarters). Gleeson plays small town west coast Garda Gerry with an affectionate relationship with local prostitutes and a tendency to clean up crimes to avoid upsetting the perpetrators mums. He’s also stubborn, outspoken and wickedly humorous; much of the joy in the script is derived from his wilful, straight-faced wind ups of those around him.
When Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong come to town to land a huge load of drugs and – incidentally – murder a few people, Gerry must work with fish out of water FBI man Don Cheadle (cue racism and guns) to try and stop them.
This isn’t a film that takes itself remotely seriously; an Irish-tinted western that cheerfully descends into farce, it works perfectly well thanks to the safe hands of it’s cast and the sparkling script that pushes it along. If it seems to underuse Mark Strong, that’s because he’s bloody English and we don’t need any encouragement.
Simple, lightweight, and warm hearted – a joy. Don’t expect complexity and you won’t be disappointed, although the sketchy subplot regarding Gerry’s mum hints at more left on the cutting room floor.
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