A longer and more appropriate title could have been the Fall of the House of Saddam. The four episode series, which originally aired last year on the BBC and HBO, depicts the coup that brought Saddam Hussein into power in Iraq and the eventual American invasion that led to his demise.
Early British critics compared the mini-series to The Sopranos, and I would agree that it does feel like a dysfunctional family drama about a high-powered mobster. It then morphs and becomes like The Last King of Scotland, the Oscar-winning film about a dictator driven by ambition and paranoia to do horrible things to his people, those within his home and those living in his county until he eventually must be ousted.
By the end, we are told that Saddam Hussein was executed for war crimes. The really, really bad things that he did aren't portrayed here, but we certainly get a sense of a man that is quite capable of those crimes against humanity and more.
Fifty-year-old, Israeli actor Yigal Naor portrays Saddam Hussein. Naor's performance isn't on par with Forest Whitaker who starred in The Last King of Scotland. Naor's character, unlike Whitaker's, is never really likeable at any point. He starts out power-hungry and evil and remains that way. Naor is strong and gives a fine performance that is nevertheless riveting.
Now available on DVD, the series has since been nominated for 4 Emmy Awards. One of which for casting, which I hope it wins. This series, if nothing else, gives rise to some great performances by actors and actresses who are amazing, even if only appearing briefly.
Oscar-nominated, Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo stars as Sajida, one of Saddam's wives. She is quite good as the loyal wife who slowly becomes disillusioned by her insane, cheating husband.
Special attention, however, goes to Said Taghmaoui who plays Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother. He only appears in the first episode, but he too plays a loyalist to Saddam who quickly becomes disillusioned by Saddam's insanity. Despite the fact that he becomes one, Saddam abhors traitors and even the slightest suspicion will cause him to turn on people, which happens to Barzan.
Taghmaoui is an accomplished French actor who will be more recognizable to Americans after his appearance in the 2009 blockbuster G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. He also recently appeared in the final 2009 episodes of the TV series Lost. Taghmaoui is nothing short of awesome and the 36-year-old should be watched for in the future.
But, the talent of young actors doesn't end there. In episodes 2 and 3 of the series, the filmmakers get into the rivalries surrounding Saddam's adult children. In 2003, Saddam's two sons, Uday and Qusay, were famously killed in a shootout with American forces. This is brilliantly depicted in episode 4, but the two episodes prior give you stunning insight into their characters, particularly Uday.
Both Uday and Qusay were ruthless like their father, but Uday was more so. He was also a lush who drank a lot and a bad ass that was obviously spoiled. Uday felt who could do what he wanted whenever he wanted no matter what it was. He lived life selfishly and extravagantly, dressing in fancy clothes, brandishing guns at nightclubs, doing drugs and having sex with prostitutes.
Italian-born actor Philip Arditti plays Uday. Hardly any information has been posted about him beyond that he's appeared in several British TV series. Regardless, he is phenomenal in this role and plays it to a tee. He's totally wicked in every sense of that word. You hate him. You feel sorry for him. He's also a complete scene-stealer.
Episode 3 would have to be the best of the series. It gives you a sense of the true terror that Saddam had over his country and the people in it. It's that powerful even without Saddam being in it for most of the episode. Again, it's more concerned with Saddam's children, specifically his son-in-laws.
Egyptian actor Amr Waked plays Hussein Kamel al-Majid. Daniel Lundh plays Saddam Kamel al-Majid. Their characters are brothers who get married to two of Saddam's daughters. They are at first a part of the inner circle but realize that they must escape this tyrant. They pull off the most obvious act of betrayal against Saddam and pay royally for it. It's one of the most intense and dramatic turn of events I've seen in a while.
And, if you want to see a dramatic work of real-life events that is intense and powerful, well-written and acted, definitely check out this mini-series.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated TV-MA for language and violence
4 Episodes, Running 62 mins. each