Glamour masks the face of evil
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Aug 05, 2011
In the absorbing but inconsequential "The Devil's Double," Uday Hussein, the even more lunatic son of the lunatic Saddam Hussein, says something strange to the man he has hired as his reluctant body double. When his uncanny look-alike, Latif Yahia (who, like Uday, is played by Dominic Cooper), has had enough of assassins' bullets and his violently deranged boss's behavior, Uday tell Latif that he can't quit because, as Uday puts it, "I love you too much." To which the hapless doppelganger responds, "You only love Uday."
The movie, it seems, is similarly lovestruck.
There are two fascinating characters - and one fascinating actor - at the heart of the film, which is set in late-1980s and early-1990s Iraq and is interspersed with news footage of the war in Kuwait. With little more than the help of a bucktoothed dental prosthesis, Cooper changes his demeanor, voice, laugh and even his walk so utterly that, when watching Uday and Latif share the screen, it's easy to forget that it's the same guy playing both parts. Where Uday is hyperactive, impulsive and psychotic, Latif is slow, deliberate and introspective.
Cooper's performance is really threefold. He doesn't have to play only Uday and Latif, but also Latif "doing" Uday. It's a tour de force, and the film's greatest strength.
But director Lee Tamahori's movie - adapted by writer Michael Thomas from a memoir by Latif Yahia, Uday's real-life body double - has eyes only for Uday.
Much of this has to do with Cooper himself. He makes Uday so watchable, it's hard to take your eyes off him, if only for fear of what the character might do next. Rape follows disemboweling follows torture, with little warning. Cooper tears into the part with evil glee.
But some of the swooning is also due to the storytelling, which at times seems a little too enamored of Uday for its own good. The women, the drugs, the guns, the unchecked - and, quite frankly, unearned - power are all glamorized, as in a crime thriller.
Uday is clearly depicted as the villain; he's a murdering, drug-addicted rapist. But the film's disapproval of his moral bankruptcy is undermined by a slick filmmaking style that drools a little too heavily over Uday's expensive sports cars, Armani suits, $10,000 watches, scantily clad women and mountains of cocaine.
When it focuses on Latif, the movie borders on old-fashioned melodrama. In Tamahori and Thomas's telling of his presumably true-life tale, it isn't the dangerous nature of the job that proves to be his downfall, but a woman. Although he was explicitly warned to stay away from Uday's sexual conquests - so many times, in fact, that, if only in this regard, the movie is thoroughly predictable - Latif winds up getting involved with Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), Uday's femme-fatale main squeeze. Sagnier adds nothing to the story besides eye candy.
In the end, "The Devil's Double" is one long balance sheet. On the plus side are the dueling performances of Cooper, which anchor the film. On the minus side is a seemingly interminable litany of violence, abuse and degradation. They cheapen the film by nudging it in the direction of a splatter flick. The bodies pile up, but they don't amount to anything.
Contains plentiful violence and obscenity, some sex and nudity, drug use, scenes of torture, warfare and rape.