The Devil's Double
Directed by Lee Tamahori. Starring Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Dar Salim, Raad Rawi, Mem Ferda, Philip Quast, Nasser Memarzia. (2011, R, 108 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 12, 2011
The devil in this story is Uday Hussein, the notoriously decadent and monstrous elder son of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. The story’s double is Latif Yahia, a valorous Iraqi soldier whose recently published memoir about his experiences serving as Uday’s body double provides the source material for this film. Dominic Cooper plays both roles. His performance would have been a tour de force had there only been authentic characters here to play. Unfortunately, both Uday and Latif are one-note characterizations, though Cooper does wonders with the material he’s been given to work with. Screenwriter Michael Thomas creates no story arc or character modulation, which results in a film that starts out at full tilt and has nowhere to build from there. Uday is an unbridled maniac whose lust for women, torture, and expensive goods knows no bounds – Not even Papa Saddam ever says no to his first-born. Latif is a reluctant and repulsed conscript: He obeys palace orders only upon threat of harm to his family. Certainly Latif, as portrayed here, has a bit more dramatic latitude than Uday, yet Latif’s suppressed disdain seems like the curbed superego to Uday’s unconstrained id. Then there’s Sarrab (Sagnier), Uday’s favorite girlfriend among many, whose first glance at Latif spells out the betrayal to come – again decimating any chance to build curiosity or intrigue. It’s not that such things as the torture scenes or the vivid disembowelment of a crony are not emotionally fraught and intense, nor that Uday was a misunderstood lunatic in need of explication. Rather, The Devil’s Double simply offers a trip through hell on a one-way track, like a spook-house ride at the amusement park meant to titillate and excite the senses and then deposit the rider/viewer safely on the other side in the full light of day. In the films of director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, Die Another Day), violence is a recurrent motif, but here he is unable to wrangle the details into anything but a steady but horrific stream. Paul Kirby’s production design stands outs for its opulent re-creation of the golden glitz and ostentatious trappings of the Iraqi palace, but otherwise The Devil’s Double belongs to filmdom’s hoi polloi.