Title: The Devil’s Double
Directed By: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Philip Quast, Nasser Memarzia, Raad Rawi
The Devil’s Double has two things going for it, it’s inherently fascinating to watch one man play two roles in the same movie and it claims to be “the real story of the man who was forced to become the double of Saddam Hussein’s sadistic son.” If this is really exactly how things went down for this man, the movie’s a worthwhile watch for that reason alone, to get an inside look. Too bad this inside look doesn’t make the true tale as rousing as it could have been.
Dominic Cooper is both Latif Yahia and Uday Hussein. The son of Saddam Hussein, Uday is in need of a body double and with the help of a few cosmetic adjustments, Latif is the perfect match. Should Latif take the gig, he’ll enjoy all the luxuries that Uday abuses on a regular basis – expensive watches, the finest clothing, as many women as he’d like and more. The catch is, Latif must leave his old life behind and entirely devote himself to Uday. Well, actually this isn’t exactly a deal in need of accepting. The day Uday summons Latif, Latif is dead and he can either live on as Uday or die for real.
There’s no doubt that living in Uday’s shoes comes with perks, but, as time goes on, it gets harder and harder to ignore his childish and often violent behavior, especially when Uday demands Latif do his dirty work for him. With the Gulf War in the backdrop, The Devil’s Double tests the extent to which Latif will go to to preserve his ethics and save the people he loves.
While the premise is interesting and characters quite colorful, to say the least, The Devil’s Double has a hard time rising above a weak first act, which lacks character development and proper story structure. The initial introduction to our hero isn’t particularly engaging and then, when we get into the meat of the story and Uday makes his proposition, the weight of this commitment isn’t nearly as devastating as it could be.
Because of this, when we transition into the second act, the beginning of which is dedicated to Latif’s transformation, the film is rather flat. A similar issue arises with the relationship that buds in the midst of Latif’s service. A point is made that if Latif gets involved with a woman Uday considers his, there will be serious consequences. However, the tiniest bit of sneaking around is all it takes to strike up a romance with Uday’s favorite, Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier). The duo has chemistry, the problem is in the writing. Sarrab’s interest in Latif is unjustified and then, a realization towards the end of the film is presented in such a jumbled fashion, it’s devoid of emotional value and doesn’t really make much sense.
On the other hand, there are a nice handful of scenes that stand out. Cooper is downright fantastic and not only successfully creates two entirely believable characters in the same film, but seizes that opportunity, highlighting their grand differences as well as the finer facets of their personalities. As Latif is the lower key and nobler of the two, it’s Cooper’s portrayal of Uday that makes the biggest impact as he’s an absolutely wild character. While Uday is evil in the beginning and evil in the end, Cooper still facilitates a beautiful transition from presenting Uday’s antics in a more amusing playboy fashion to turning him into a truly terrifying monster.
There’s one party sequence during which Uday loses his cool, not once, but two times and the results are appropriately shocking and appalling. There’s another particularly heart wrenching scene a short while later during which Uday wreaks havoc on a wedding. But these moments aren’t only gruesome in terms of the events that takes place; director Lee Tamahori increases the devastation tenfold through proper camera coverage and shot transitions. Rather than rub a gory death in the audience’s faces, he uses crafty framing to present the horrors in a more artful fashion, which, ultimately, makes them far more disconcerting.
Overall, The Devil’s Double is a worthwhile watch for Cooper alone. When a weak plot point causes your attention to drift, Cooper steps in, usually as Uday, to reel you right back in. There are good moments and less enthralling ones, which leads to jagged pacing and lulls in concern for the characters, but luckily both Cooper and the curiosity of how true to life this tale may be are there to help you maintain some degree of interest all the way through and keep you thinking thereafter.