The Devil’s Double ***
Directed by: Lee Tamahori.
Written by: Michael Thomas based on the book by Latif Yahia.
Starring: Dominic Cooper (Uday Hussein / Latif Yahia), Ludivine Sagnier (Sarrab), Raad Rawi (Munem), Philip Quast (Saddam Hussein / Faoaz), Mimoun Oaïssa (Ali), Khalid Laith (Yassem Al-Helou), Dar Salim (Azzam), Nasser Memarzia (Latif's Father), Mem Ferda (Kamel Hannah), Pano Masti (Said), Akin Gazi (Saad), Stewart Scudamore (Father of School Girl), Amrita Acharia (School Girl), Elektra Anastasi (School Girl 2), Amber Rose Revah (Bride).
Uday Hussein was a real life monster. No matter what you think of the War in Iraq, no one is really going to defend him. Saddam’s son loved being in the spotlight, loved the money and power he had and basically did whatever the hell he wanted to right up until he was killed by American forces in 2003. If he saw something he wanted, he took it – whether it was money, possessions or money. I’m not sure he rose to the level of almost cartoon super villainy that he does in The Devil’s Double, but it certainly makes for an entertaining, yet disturbing movie. The filmmakers seem to have wanted to make Scarface in Iraq, and in many ways, they succeeded.
Dominic Cooper gives a wildly over the top, but hugely entertaining performance, not just as Uday himself, but as Latif Yahia, who a Lieutenant in the Iraqi army that Uday forces to be his body double. He cannot be everywhere at once, and you never know when some crazy person may want to take a shot at him, so he needs a double. Saddam has a double, so he wants one too. As Uday, Cooper goes wildly over the top, with his demented grin that turns for happiness to lust to anger in the blink of an eye. That doesn’t even mention his voice, a high pitched gleeful, greedy one, that turns to anger, which makes him sound like a petulant child. As Latif, he plays a man conflicted. On one hand, he does enjoy the benefits of being Uday’s double – he can have whatever he wants. On the other hand, he sees just how evil Uday is, and what he and his father is doing to his country, and he despises it. But what is he supposed to do? You cannot say no to Uday Hussein. I’m not sure what made the filmmakers decide that Cooper could handle this double role, but he does so wonderfully. For an actor who has mainly shown up in supporting roles in both Hollywood (Captain America) and indie (An Education) movies, this is his coming out party.
The film was directed by Lee Tamorhori, who knows how to make action movies (he has a James Bond to his credit). He tells this story with energy, action and almost constant movement. It certainly never devolves into Michael Bay style theatrics, but at times it gets close. The first part of the movie almost seems like a dark adventure movie, as Latif is introduced to this world – the constant parties, the never ending supply of women. The film gets much darker as it moves along – not only does America invade Iraq (this is the first Gulf War), but Uday’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. Latif will finally draw a line after Uday “picks up” teenage girls on the street to have sex with (which is a nice way of saying he abducts and rapes them), and perhaps even worse the way Uday abuses a bride on her wedding day. At times, the style gets in the way of the content which is perhaps too serious for Tamarhori’s style for this film.
Overall, I think The Devil’s Double is a fine film – well made and written, and with extremely well acted by Cooper, who goes for broke and gets rewarded for it. It isn’t a great film, but for the outset it grabs you, and won’t let go.