'Warriors' helmer's 'Devil's Double' hits theaters

Lee Tamahori’s “The Devil’s Double,” a tale of violence and corruption set in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s reign, features Dominic Cooper in dual roles as Saddam’s debauched son Uday and the man who was forced to portray Uday’s body double to thwart assassination attempts.

The pic, which was financed by Belgium-based Corsan and preemed at Sundance, marks a return to the independent film world that supported Tamahori’s 1994 New Zealand breakout “Once Were Warriors” — a far cry from the Hollywood actioners the director had been known for since helming the successful James Bond blockbuster “Die Another Day” in 2002.

“It was time to reboot myself,” says the 61-year-old director.

Tamahori says he had become “pigeonholed” as an action movie director. “I wanted to go back to that type of hard-edged dramatic film, which was why I came to America in the first place and did ‘Mulholland Falls’ and ‘The Edge,’ ” he says. “And I couldn’t find that type of picture in the American system anymore. The landscape had changed.”

Tamahori says that after 16 years of making American studio movies, “I realized that I wanted to go back and make an independent film to reaffirm that I could still work without needing all the resources of a studio picture.”

“The Devil’s Double” recently screened at the Los Angeles Film Fest. Picked up by Lionsgate out of Sundance, it is skedded for a July 29 domestic release.

Tamahori’s decision to reinvent himself comes partly from necessity. His follow-ups to the Bond film, 2005’s “xXx: State of the Union” and 2007’s “Next,” were not exactly hits. And in 2006, he faced allegations of soliciting an act of prostitution and loitering with the intent to commit prostitution. But his decision to venture outside of Hollywood, he maintains, “mostly had to do with the films that I was making, not the fact that I was arrested.”

“The Devil’s Double” is a return to form for Tamahori in another way — its bracing depiction of an extremely dysfunctional family that uses violence as a solution to their problems. Like ” ‘Once Were Warriors,’ ” he says, “we tried to make the violence shockingly real and in your face.”

Both “Warriors” and “Double” also share a risky tonal balance. “The first is a social realist piece dressed up as entertainment,” he explains. “And this is also dressed up as entertainment, but it’s very dark and devious.”

For his next project, Tamahori is considering going further back to his roots, to adapt “Whale Rider” author Witi Ihimaera’s Maori-set “Bulibasha.” The project would rep Tamahori’s first Kiwi production since “Once Were Warriors.”

“I want to do it like a great American Western,” he says.

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