Based on a true story of opulence, greed and unequivocal malevolence, The Devil’s Double retells the account of Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) the real life ‘fiday’ – or body double – to Saddam Hussein’s notoriously wayward son Uday Hussain (also Dominic Cooper).
The moment the film’s overly stylised introduction comes to a close we are presented with Latif as he’s reunited with his old class mate Uday. The resemblance between the two is understandably uncanny, with only the flamboyant and cartoonish mannerisms of Uday separating him from the uptight and conservative Latif. The question of whether Latif will accept the role of Uday’s double is dragged out until it reaches its inevitable conclusion, with Latif unwillingly agreeing to sacrifice his identity in order to protect his family from any violent backlash his refusal may provoke from the Hussein family.
The film’s opening act successfully pulls us in to this engrossing story. Whilst both characters share physical similarities, much time is spent dismissing this, as it becomes apparent these two men abide by very different moral codes. Whilst Uday appears as a physical embodiment of chaos and evil, Latif is presented as the angel to the dictator’s son’s devil. As Latif undergoes numerous surgical procedures and perfects his interpretation of the Iraqi prince we’re given an insight into the world of wealth and greed Latif has reluctantly been submerged into.
Dominic Cooper’s performance is something of an anomaly. Whilst successfully portraying two distinctly different characters despite the hindrance of only a poorly formed denture separating the two’s striking physical similarities, both performances feel like incredibly melodramatic representations of good and evil. Whilst Uday seems like a pantomime villain thrust in front of the camera with nothing to hide behind other than a bottle of Moet and an Uzi (making Saddam Hussain seem like a relatively reasonable figure) Latif, whilst no doubt a man of high morals, comes across as an incredibly diluted representation of his character, which, considering the magnitude of temptations he was exposed to feels like an all too simplified depiction of innocence.
With no middle ground to be found throughout the film, these ‘black and white’ performances feel like the result of a poorly developed collection of sitcom characters, a sentiment only amplified by the film’s continued focus on cartoonish set pieces and the introduction of a poorly conceived love story. Indeed, the moment we’re introduced to Ludivine Sagnier as Sarrab and told that Latif can have anything he desires, unless it’s a woman chosen by Uday, we know exactly how this story will play out. Whilst this love triangle involving Latif’s forbidden obsession with Sarrab and Uday’s vain and egotistical obsession with his doppelganger creates an interesting narrative conflict within the films otherwise superfluously violent and visually appeasing method of retelling this extraordinary tale it fails to detract from the countless scenes of torture, paedophilia and numerous moments of unequivocal, psychopathic tendencies. Combine these flaws with the noticeable flux in accents between the cast members, ranging from xenophobic impersonations to upper class, public schoolboys hiding behind fake tan, and any pretences the film may have to being a serious historical document are quickly thrown out the window.
Set amongst the backdrop of the Iran/Iraq war, director Lee Tamahori, takes us on a no holds barred, adrenaline fuelled journey into the dark underworld of Saddam’s Baghdad palace. Using a narrative approach more similar to films such as Scarface or Goodfellas than your usual historical biopic, it becomes apparent from the outset that this incredibly sensationalised story intends to entertain rather than inform. Tamahori’s artificial gangster paradise, filled with high powered sports car, bikini clad ladies and opulent furnishings creates somewhat of an unbelievable backdrop for these exceptional events, which, already feel too extraordinary, to be taken seriously despite their factual grounding. The golden shine which frames these opulent scenes only heightens this feeling of make-believe, with everything seeming overly polished and events gleaming with an artificial shine that becomes increasingly difficult to dispel, resulting in the film’s accompanying use of archived news footage and it’s eighties soundtrack never seeming to concisely gel with this otherwise stylised representation of Baghdad.
Whilst there is an abundance of action and moments of pure excitement that hold the attention for most of the film, the gratuitous violence and overzealous gun play soon becomes tiring, unfortunately resulting in the final act feeling laboured and thus lacking the impact its final climax deserves. Whilst Cooper does enough with the rolls of Uday and Latif to negate his obvious miscasting, It all culminates in a great piece of escapism that unfortunately fails to capitalise on the truly remarkable story at its core, resulting in a film which feels like a wasted opportunity, albeit an accomplished and exciting one.
Had these events been a fictionalised interpretation of Latif’s memoirs then this bond-esque action film would undoubtedly be heralded as the gloriously dramatic thriller it is, with an undeniably riveting premise played out with a intoxicating level of panache. However, considering the magnitude of the criminal activity depicted here (specifically the rape and murder of numerous schoolgirls and women) it unfortunately feels like nothing more than the exploitation of these unnamed victims purely for the gratification of the modern, popcorn munching, multiplex audiences who apparently ask for little more than an abundance of action and drama with little to no thought as to meaning behind it.
DIRECTOR: LEE TAMAHORI
STARS: DOMINIC COOPER, LUDIVINE SAGNIER, RAAD RAWI, NASSER MAMARZIA,MEM FERDA
RUNTIME: 108 MINS APPROX