Mamma Mia's pretty boy, Dominic Cooper, turns ugly -- twice -- portraying the evil Uday Hussein, Saddam's sadistic psychopath son, as well as Latif Yahia, the Iraqi army lieutenant tortured into service as his body double. In sharp Armani suits, Cooper maintains a brutal edge for Iday, an enraged wounded soul for Latif. This accomplished performance, the first Oscar-worthy Best Actor of the year, begs the question, can an Academy Award go to a portrait of a despicable character? Yes, Forest Whitaker won for his deft portrayal of Idi Amin.
At Monday night's premiere Patricia Field, Paz de la Huerta, Charles Ferguson, Peter Riegert and many others averted their eyes at some of the onscreen violence. Balancing Uday's outsized cocaine-fueled slaughter of anyone who crosses him, his abduction, rape, and murder of schoolgirls, his "seizing" whatever -- just because he can -- are glimpses of an exotic terrain and gangster-style Arab culture we rarely see.
At the Standard Hotel after party, Dutch producer Michael John Fedun told me the film was shot in Jordan and Malta, near enough to Iraq to get the dry heat. Cooper was at the center, with filmmakers Barry Levinson and James Toback chatting about possible roles.
The French actress Ludivine Sagnier, so good in Francois Ozon's The Swimming Pool, gives a fine performance as Uday's mistress who ends up fleeing Baghdad with Latif. She is a composite of several key women in the real life Latif's story on which this riveting film is based, as scripted by Michael Thomas, and directed by Lee Tamahori. Even now after Uday's death, Latif lives in fear of some maniac's reprisal for a history that is simply too out there to hide.
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