Monday, February 3, 2014

House of Saddam (2008)

I just watched this series on HBO, and to be frank, I’m not quite sure if I’m feeling the way the storytellers really wanted their viewers to feel.

The story itself is a sort of biography on Saddam Hussein beginning with the day he rose to power and ending with his capture.

The first minute caught my attention for one reason only… it was a perfectly normal-looking, even happy scene with Saddam celebrating his little daughter’s birthday. I thought to myself, how nice… someone is showing a lighter side to the man for a change. But then two minutes into it, that thought was discarded before the wicks on the little girl’s birthday cake had time to cool.

I know that films about real-life monsters are popular. Hell knows I’ve seen a good many of them, told from both the point of view of the madmen and the folks who pursue them. This particular film focused on the former president of Iraq, whom we all know did not exactly earn a Dictator of the Year award at any point during his reign. But it bothers me when film-makers take the point of view of the villain and refuse to admit that he was in fact human.

In this case, they took every possible opportunity they could to portray Saddam as a pure heartless beast. Mind you, I do mean every possible opportunity… I don’t think there was a single scene in the film where he wasn’t practically twirling his mustache and muttering muh-ha-ha-ha.

About 30 minutes into it, I think my husband summed up everything better than I possibly could. (He wasn’t even watching it, just listening as he read a book nearby.) He said “So, has he eaten a kitten yet?”

I can understand propaganda when it comes to raising the haunches of the masses to prepare for a pretty bad situation. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see similar films about Kim Jong Il or Hugo Chavez being shown. But the difference is that those two blokes are alive and well and certainly don’t like us much. Saddam, on the other hand met his doom on the gallows almost two years ago. If you’ll pardon the pun, let’s give the guy a break here.

No, I’m not condoning some of the dastardly things that Saddam did, and I think he got exactly what he deserved. But I also know that there are always two sides to every coin. Very few (if any) dictators in history spent their mornings deciding what they could do to piss off the rest of the world. Most of them just acted in the manner which they thought would be best for them and their country, regardless of how other countries might feel about the situation.

Of course, no one really wants to hear about the improvements Saddam made to his country during the better years of his presidency. Forget that Saddam rejected Sharia law as Iraq’s legal system, let’s just have him say something really nasty to his mother on her deathbed.

Yeah, I like my film villains to have a bit more complexity to their character, especially if they are based on actual people or events*.

To be fair, near the very end we started seeing just a glimpse of humanity in the character when he was forced to hide like a hunted animal, but not enough to make anyone feel very sympathetic toward him.

The acting was good despite the way that the Saddam family characters were written. The locations and sets were quite lovely too. All in all, it's not a bad film to watch, just to be taken with a grain of salt.

* I’ll give an exception to Jack the Ripper, since CNN never interviewed him.

Film information: House of Saddam

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