The Devil’s Double (review)

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Devil's Double with Dominic Cooper

Prince for Uday

Hoorah! Time to start mythologizing the reign of Saddam Hussein! I didn’t realize it was time, but obviously this is the case, because, look: The Devil’s Double has arrived. Whoa, that Uday Hussein was a psycho, huh? But he knew how to party, amirite? Man, it was like Scarface in the desert over there, a real Baghdad and Gomorrah. Cocaine, guns, designer suits, sportscars, Rolexes, nearly naked women lounging around the pool, torture on demand… the fun never ended, it seems. Woo-hoo!

If you’ve been waiting to see the excesses and bone-deep corruption of Baghdad under Saddam Hussein done up gold-plated, Jersey Shore-tacky style, wait no more. It’s all about Uday here, the insane son of Saddam Hussein, but never fear: you won’t be asked to truly appreciate the nightmare, just revel in it. Director Lee Tamahori plays Uday’s sadism less like the horror show that it surely was and more like the larks of a spoiled rich kid that just go a bit too far — rumor has it that the film downgrades Uday’s psychopathy, which can surely have been only to make it more “entertaining.” It wouldn’t do to have us truly sickened when there’s some good old-fashioned debauchery to drink in. Tamahori could have made a hard, uncompromising little film about people, like his first feature, New Zealand’s Once Were Warriors. Instead, he made a slick, lurid glamorization of psychopathy that more closely mirrors his Hollywood work, like XXX: State of the Union and Next.

The only reason to see this pointless flick — and it is a very good reason indeed — is for Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger, An Education), who is absolutely astonishing in dual roles as Uday and Latif Yahia, a poor, kind soldier who is drafted to be Uday’s double, for security purposes. (The film is based on the book by the real Yahia [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], though it’s questionable how verifiable much of what he has to say is; the porno-esque interlude Latif enjoys with Uday’s main squeeze [Ludivine Sagnier: Peter Pan, Ma femme est une actrice] does lead one to wonder how much of his insider look is fantasy.) I haven’t taken much notice of Cooper before, but I’m hugely impressed with the talent and versatility he displays here — I realize now he simply hasn’t had the chance to stand out like this before. He so transforms himself from one role to the other that he manages to look completely different, despite the fact that he is meant to be portraying two men so similar that they can pass for each other. The warmth and humanity in Latif’s eyes and in his body language is a startling contrast to the soulless ice of Uday.

Cooper’s performances are a marvel of screen acting, particularly when he’s playing against himself thanks to FX magic — he’s downright thrilling to watch. It’s genuinely a shame that the rest of the film is so cheap and tawdry that it overshadows even this marvelous work.

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