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The Devil's Double

Director: Lee Tamahori
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Philip Quast

(US DVD: 22 Nov 2011)

During the course of the last decade, and for very unspecific reasons, Dominic Cooper’s career has maintained itself without him every playing a leading role. He’s become a go-to guy for suave, charming scene-stealers (for proof watch his small turns in An Education and Captain America), but until now he had never commanded his own movie. After watching The Devil’s Double, you’ll wonder why.

Cooper gives two masterful performances as Uday Hussein (son of Saddam) and his fedai (body double), Latif Yahia. The film is based on Yahia’s literary account of how he was handpicked by the ruthless Uday to serve as his decoy. Think of the film as a twisted version of The Prince and the Pauper in which the Prince is the most violent man in his country and the Pauper is coerced and threatened to change places with him.

When the film begins we are witness to Uday’s life of decadence and nihilism. He wears shiny Versace suits that he pairs with huge guns and scary bodyguards. He goes out to the streets, picks up virginal schoolgirls to rape and then murder, and at home he has no problem justifying his behavior to his father (Philip Quast plays Saddam). The truth is that Uday knows he can get away with anything he wants as long as his family owns Iraq.

As external elements begin to threaten Hussein’s dictatorship, Uday is forced to find himself a double, specifically someone who will receive any bullet meant for him. He goes to his former schoolmate Latif and kidnaps him, forcing him to take on what might’ve been one of the world’s most dangerous jobs. The good hearted Latif does this in order to protect his family and reluctantly becomes Uday’s shadow, learning every single one of his quirks and mannerisms.

Watching Cooper play both characters is a small joy of sorts and makes the rest of the film seem completely undeserving to what he does. In an interview included in this DVD, the young actor—whose eloquence is just as surprising—shares his method and confesses to have been inspired by other iconic criminal roles to bring Uday to life. He infuses him with all the psychotic violence of Al Pacino in Scarface while giving Latif the serenity of Pacino in The Godfather. Director Lee Tamahori even goes as far as to say that he shaped Uday after Sonny Corleone and his idea was to create a contrast between reality and hyper fiction.

Cooper’s work is especially impressive because you never see it coming. While he sometimes pushes Uday to the realms of caricature, his low key turn as Latif makes you reevaluate his entire career. Was this the role he was preparing us for? In some of the film’s best scenes we see him face to face against himself, and we are in awe of how distinct he makes these two identical looking men. The pleasure with which Uday conducts his demonic practices is all the more shocking in face of the goodness within Latif. Of course we wonder how much of it was shaped after Latif’s own version of the story, and the film sadly never suggests we should doubt his statement. 

While the film’s intentions are admirable, its execution is somehow underwhelming. Tamahori has obviously been inspired by gangster and crime films of the past decades. The film’s entire aesthetics are shaped after Brian De Palma’s Scarface, and the director accepts that his idea was to approach the story from a genre perspective as opposed to being a strict biopic. However, it succumbs under its style and reaches a point where Tamahori can’t justify his use of flare, blue hues and excessive stylized violence. The major issue is that for all its referential intentions the film overall has nothing new to say. This comes as a sad realization, especially seeing how much Cooper puts into the performance. 

Other bonus materials in the DVD include an interview with the real life Latif, who makes an interesting comment on the state of Iraqi politics before and after the Gulf War. Judging from the film though, one would think the Gulf War was just a nice firework show as backdrop to a sex scene with one of Uday’s concubines (played by the underrated Ludivine Sagnier, who does her best Michelle Pfeiffer impression under a terrible wig).

This might be one of the few cases where the bonus materials on the disc actually make you see the movie under a different perspective. Tamahori’s knowledge of genre conventions, Cooper’s charming intelligence and even Latif’s own kind of insider savvy (which could be a bit tabloid-esque, under some points of view) make you want to revisit the film because they make it sound much better than it ever could be.


Extras rating:

Jose Solís wanted to be a spy since he was a child, which is why by day he works as a content editor and by night he writes and dreams of film. Although he doesn’t travel the world fighting villains, his mission is to trek the planet from screen to screen. He has been writing about film since 2003 and regularly contributes to The Film Experience and PopMatters. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.

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