"Based on a true story..." usually means that possible viewers will either be bored or bombarded with Hollywood interpretation to the point of not caring or not believing.
Trying to find the line between those two states can be hard but it never stops directors moving away from documentaries or standard blockbuster-wannabes and giving it a go. So, after giving us such fare as Once Were Warriors and Die Another Day, director Tamahori now tells us the tale of one Saddam Hussein's son.
From the off, you should know that this is a film that doesn't hold back any punches, which is reflected in its certificate. You will find yourself swinging mainly between two pillars - laughter at the absurdity and shock at the insanity.
Despite it being the tale of the young soldier chosen to be Hussein's body double, the movie is really all about, and indeed becomes carried by, the moral-free, fear-inducing life and actions of Saddam's offspring. Both roles are played by Cooper who obviously delights in the poles-apart characters, and with his portrayal of Uday Hussein, he finally deserves to lose the tag of "love interest from Mamma Mia!" Try to imagine Borat crossed with Heath Ledger's Joker and you're some way there.
With his mood swings towards irrational violence, Cooper's Uday creates a worrying tension for the audience as you await the next outburst. That, tied in with his sexual appetite, makes such scenes as the ruining of a wedding day (think Braveheart's English noble claiming his rights) and his paedophilia tendencies (a skin-crawling scene) a stark contrast to the moments of joking with the unfortunate double that he will have to lose part of his manhood so that it matches his in size.
The unusual relationship between insane son and enslaved soldier gets time upon the screen to breath and grow but at the cost of the forbidden love between body double and Uday's "touch her and I'll kill you" girlfriend. This plot progression jumps ahead several feet rather than sense-making steps but then, whether you like it or not, it's all about Hussein and the love-hate relationship you end up having with the vile character. When he's not on screen, you wait for him to appear.
What does grate the nerves as opposed to the shocking of them, is Tamahori's insistence at continuously mixing war footage into the film to remind us of the conflict raging outside. It's apparent already and these cut-away scenes only slow the pace somewhat from what is building into a "will he, won't he" kill or be killed finale between the two Cooper's. other than that though, it's surprisingly good.
UK release date: 10.08.11