August 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written by Michael Thomas and Latif Yahia, based on the novel by Latif Yahia
Directed by Lee Tamahori
Starring Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi and Phillip Quast
The Devil’s Double is a tale of excess, decadence, psychosis and state funded petulance by the youngest son of Saddam Hussein, Uday Saddam Hussein. Dominic Cooper portrays the late dictator’s late son as a made man with a devilishly high-pitched laugh, a sneering buck toothed smile jutting out from under his bushy mustache as he wears garish overpriced designer clothing while jetting between parties filled with people who only worship and play with him for fear of losing their life or their family’s life as a consequence of not smiling when he points a gold plated pistol at them just for kicks.
One downside to being an all powerful dictator who treats his people like disposable toys is that you gain a few enemies. The Husseins combat this issue by finding doubles for themselves. The doubles must make the public appearances that the Husseins are either too busy or lazy to attend, or if there’s too high a chance for an assassination attempt. Otherwise, the doubles appear to basically hang out with the Husseins and be their mirror image as they live their decadent life styles.
The film begins when a lieutenant named Latif Yahla is plucked from duty and taken to a royal palace to meet Uday Hussein. Latif is a loyal, hardworking, blue collar Iraqi man who loves his family, likes his job, cares about his country and is otherwise a nice, normal happy fellow. Uday is, as mentioned before, psychotic. Uday explains to Latif that, if Latif wants, Latif can, for all intents and purposes, become Uday. He’ll cease to legally exist, he’ll be given carte blanche to all things of Uday’s possession (except for women) and that will be that. Uday couches this as a choice, but it’s very clear that the result of declining the offer would be inadvisable. With no real choice, Latif ‘accepts’ the position of Uday’s double and thus begins a surreal adventure in which Latif is forced to act like a psychopath while a proverbial gun is constantly at his head.
Uday has a lifestyle that looks nothing like a normal Iraqi’s. Everything he owns is from the highest end and most expensive designers of Europe and America. Everything he can gild is made of gold. His personal assistant is a dainty gay man, whose obviousness would probably not be tolerated under any other circumstances in Iraq. He runs night clubs where for all the people genuinely there to have a good time, many appear to be experiencing some sort of party-related indentured servitude for Uday, while he snorts more cocaine than Al Pacino in Scarface. Latif is able to sit back and watch is quiet disgust. If Latif wanted to he could participate, but Uday appears happy to just keep Latif around for the surreal pleasure of the situation. Latif is soon given plastic surgery and some prosthetics to look more like Uday and tries his hardest to make a genuine transition into life as Uday’s doppelganger slash playmate.
As Uday and Latif, Dominic Cooper’s performances are night and day. Though the two characters looks extremely similar- and must since it’s one man playing two men who look extremely similar- the distinctions between the two men, from their facial expressions to their body language are uncanny. It’s not a simple trick of one wearing glasses and the other not or some obvious tell like that. Dominic Cooper has recreated two separate men. Where Uday is energetic, cackles and flits around to his heart’s content making a fool at himself with no risk for social sanctions, Latif is quiet and generally embarrassed by the whole ordeal. Cooper has transformed himself into these two men completely. For proof of this, I challenge anybody who sees ‘The Devil’s Double’ to then go watch ‘Captain America’ in which Cooper plays Iron Man’s father ‘Howard Stark’ to see just how invisible Cooper is as Uday/Latif. There are some composite shots of his two performances interacting and sharing the frame. Some are more convincing than others, but the editing is decent enough to keep the illusion palatable.
Latif becomes emotionally unstable as Uday grows more psychotic. Uday keeps a woman, Sarrab, as his personal number one girlfriend, though he seems more interested in underage school girls and drag queens. Sarrab is instantly drawn to Latif’s quiet pride and his easily more mature personality, among other attributes that he excels at over his more powerful mirror image. Sarrab begins a torrid affair with Latif, while Latif begins to exhibit his own signs of madness at the terror he is forced to either participate in or bear witness to and turn a blind eye.
I won’t go into details about each example of Uday’s selfish, immature and cruel ways except to say that they’re quite explicit and heartless. Watching Cooper’s two performances grows simultaneously in opposite directions as the two men revert to the core of their personalities is fascinating when you consider it’s a single man performing both transformations.
There’s a surreal scene later on in the film during the Iraq’s push on the Kuwait in which Uday sends Latif to discuss military affairs with Saddam. When Latif arrives to talk to Saddam it’s obviously Saddam’s double giving Uday’s double instructions from the real Saddam meant for the real Uday. This is how surreal and preposterous things get. It’s done amusingly without any tongues in cheeks.
The way the film archs the story its much less a film about politics and more of a surreal gangster movie, for Uday lived a gangster’s life style. Imagine if Al Pacino’s Tony Montana was the most powerful gangster in Miami, then imagine he never had to hide what he did for a living. Consider how psychotic and obsessive he was under initial circumstances, now extrapolate that to a world in which he had absolute power. Uday Hussein is a bit like this. He’s terrifying and fascinating at the same time. He existence has no weight in reality or functional living. He’s a serial killer, a rapist, a coke fiend and still, a prince. Saddam Hussein doesn’t exactly enjoy his son’s escapades, but he, too, is so corrupted by power that he doesn’t see how anything Uday does could be anything less than acceptable, if not encouraged.
Latif, through a series of soul crushing events, eventually becomes numb to Uday’s obsession over him and his treatment as a favorite puppy. The threats towards his life and his family’s life feel meaningless and Latif begins acting out. The end of the film is, once again, rather surreal. Things have come full circle for Latif, while Uday doesn’t grow at all as a person, but that’s to be expected.
‘The Devil’s Double’ is not without its flaws. It runs a bit long, with some segments feeling unnecessary and repetitive. The visual style can also run a bit flat at times given the grand nature of the story. However, there is no denying Dominic Cooper’s tour de force double performance. This is his coming out party as an actor to follow and care about. For all I know, this is the performance of his lifetime, but even if it is, it should be studied and appreciated for how separate his two entities in the picture feel. It’s a meaty role and the role of a life time, I’m sure, as it should be. Cooper nails it and then some.