Star Rating: 3/5
It is common for dictators and those close to them to have doubles (look-alikes), so that they can be in two places at once. (Not to mention making it harder for their opponents to assassinate them). But what exactly do ‘doubles’ do with their days? Well, The Devil’s Double gives viewers a brutal hint.
The film is based on the true (but embellished) story of how Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper – Tamara Drewe, Captain America: The First Avenger, My Week With Marilyn) became a look-alike for Uday Hussein (also Dominic Cooper), the son of Saddam Hussein, the President (dictator) of Iraq, 1979-2003. The film is set between the late-1980s (during the latter years of the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88) and up to December 1996.
Latif bears a striking resemblance to Uday. After some nasty threats and lashes, Latif agrees to become Uday’s double. Subsequently, Latif, to his disgust (and knowing that he could be shot on a whim at any moment), enters into Uday’s world of sadism, debauchery, drugs and murder. At what point will the ‘nice guy’ Latif draw the line?
The Devil’s Double makes for some gripping, if horrific, viewing. But, most noticeably, the film does not have much of a storyline. More often than not, scene after scene is just Latif following Uday to witness the latter’s next appalling act. Surprisingly though, this does not make the film any less absorbing to watch.
The key reason for the movie being so engrossing is Dominic Cooper. The choreography may be jerky; the music may sound cheap and not totally in sync with the scenes; and the women may look distinctly Western and non-Arabic. Yet, particularly as Uday, Cooper makes the audience feel that their money has not been wasted. As Uday, Cooper plays an insane (in the true sense of the word), volatile, spoilt brat with an insatiable appetite for alcohol, drugs, women (of all ages) and malice. In almost every scene, Uday appears drunk, high and unpredictable. Uday makes us feel uneasy every time he appears on screen, which is a testament to Cooper’s acting abilities.
There is no doubt that Cooper plays well as Uday. But his performance is not quite in the same league as Christian Bale’s in The Fighter. This is because in The Devil’s Double, Uday is not given a third dimension. Also, from the film, one has little idea what Uday’s upbringing was like, or what his relationship was like with his father (which was apparently not great) and mother (whom he was supposedly close to), amongst other things. This is a real pity, as this could have shown Uday in a chillingly human light, as opposed to the animal that he is portrayed to be throughout the movie.
Whilst as Uday, Cooper is impressive, he is less so as Latif. This might be because Latif is too nice and normal relative to Uday. Nevertheless, one does not feel much sympathy for Latif, or his predicament. In this respect, Cooper could have done better. Then again, just as Uday has not been given much depth, nor has Latif. This is not Cooper’s fault. Rather, it is the fault of the director, Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, xXx 2: The Next Level, Next), who should have given his two main characters more depth, even at the expense of making the film a little longer. At only 106 minutes, he had the time to do this.
Just as Uday and Latif lack complexity, so too do the other characters in The Devil’s Double, such as Munem (Raad Rawi – The Kingdom, Green Zone, Conan the Barbarian) and Kamel Hannah (Mem Ferda – Revolver, Legacy: Black Ops, Ill Manors), who are supposedly part of Saddam’s cruel regime. Too many of them, though, appear as ‘good guys in bad positions,’ which could not have been true. Repressive governments don’t exist because they’re packed with ‘good people’ under an ‘evil’ despot. Rather, they survive because they’re filled with murderous psychopaths, who are given positions to abuse (until they become victims of the system, of course). By doing this, Tamahori shamefully forsakes the chance to illustrate the true realities of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to the detriment of the movie.
All-in-all, The Devil’s Double may be crude and the epitome of its own title, but it gives us a glimpse of what life as a double to a nasty, sadistic individual could be like. Almost by himself, Dominic Cooper, playing two very different people, makes this utterly brutal film worth watching. The Devil’s Double is not one for the feint-hearted, and will leave even the strongest of people feeling uncomfortable by the end.