The Devil's Double - Review
Review by Jack Foley
DOMINIC Cooper delivers two great performances in Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double yet is letdown by the film’s sensationalist approach.
Inspired by the autobiographical account of one of its central protagonists, Latif Yahia (who served as reluctant body double for Saddam Hussein’s psychopathic son, Uday), it also steadfastly refuses to be thought of as the definitive version of events.
Rather, it adopts a highly stylised Scarface approach to the subject, bludgeoning audiences with its graphic excess without offering any political resonance or emotional subtext.
Cooper, who plays both Latif and Uday, is on sensational, even career re-defining form and has already been linked to the awards season. But Tamahori’s gung-ho direction may present a significant obstacle in getting the actor the nominations he may deserve.
Set during the late ‘80s in Baghdad, the film picks up as Iraqi lieutenant Latif is summoned to the Court of Saddam by Uday and forced to become his double because of the similarity in their looks.
What ensues, is a nightmare vision of life under the spell of one of the world’s most ruthless psychopaths, as played out in almost soap opera fashion.
Latif is forced to look on aghast as Uday rapes, tortures and murders his way through life, while searching for a way out that won’t compromise the safety of the family he has been forced to give up.
Some of the key events in Uday’s tyrannical history are featured, such as his slaying of a close aide of Saddam’s (albeit in much less graphic fashion) and the notorious rape of a bride on her wedding day (prompting her suicide).
But while obviously repellent, Tamahori’s approach is so overly stylised and sensational that the film’s ability to shock feels diminished… replaced instead by a nasty after-taste.
Cooper’s attempts to offer some explanation of Uday’s mental state, meanwhile, are lost completely amid the more animated showcases of his lunacy and fail to cast light on the destructive father-son dynamic that may have existed between them and accounted for some of his attitudes (and which reportedly informed his approach to the character).
That takes nothing away from Cooper, though, who remains the most compelling reason for seeing the film – his dual depictions of Uday and Latif proving highly effective in creating both a monster and a victim who captivate throughout.
His performance of Uday will garner the most positives for the way in which it transforms an actor more commonly associated with romantic roles into a truly terrifying movie psychopath, while his portrayal of Latif showcases a contrasting restraint and a strong but tormented sense of morality.
Tamahori’s decision to opt for debauched glamour as opposed to hard-hitting grit is clearly an attempt to show how unchallenged power can fuel any desire without consequence but while certainly gripping, it’s ultimately exhausting and strips the film of anything really valuable to say.
The overall result is a deeply flawed experience that nevertheless serves as a brilliant showcase of an actor transforming his career on-screen that is worth seeing for that reason alone – so long as you can stomach the excess.
Running time: 108mins
UK Release Date: August 10, 2011