By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
The Devil’s Double is singularly off-putting.
It is 1987 in betrayal- and corruption-choked Baghdad, with the first Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, in the near future.
Decorated army lieutenant Latif Yahia is summoned to Saddam Hussein’s palace and ordered to become ( well, his family is threatened with execution if he refuses, which amounts to the same thing) a body double or “fiday,” essentially a political decoy.
For whom? None other than the decadent, sadistic, and megalomaniacal Uday Saddam Hussein (who was killed during the 2003 American invasion), the hated and powerful older son of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, played by Philip Quast.
So Latif, a childhood schoolmate of Uday’s who already strongly resembles him, undergoes plastic surgery and dental work so that he can become virtually identical to the man he is impersonating.
Training for his job, Yahia gets to experience the wild and horrific extent of Uday’s malevolent behavior. He also finds himself in a flirtatious relationship with Uday’s favorite palace concubine, Sarrab, played by Ludivine Sagnier.
The riveting Dominic Cooper plays both crazed Uday and his decent, reluctant body double, and he creates two vivid, contrasting, memorable based-on-real-life movie characters.
But, under Lee Tamahori’s voyeurism-encouraging direction, with a pandering script by Michael Thomas loosely based on the autobiographical novel by Latif Yahia, the film is almost as overindulgent as Uday himself. Tamahori (Next, Along Came a Spider, Once Were Warriors) ignores the political arena entirely, instead concentrating unflinchingly on the cruel violence and hedonistic sex.
Cooper — most familiar to this point for nearly negligible supporting roles in An Education, Mamma Mia!, and the current Captain America: The First Avenger — is splendid in this star-making twofer. As Uday, he is an out-of-control psychopath (a rendering so one-dimensional and cartoonish, it would fit right in in a James Bond movie, like Die Another Day, directed by — so what do you know? — Tamahori), while his Latif, the better of his two performances, is quietly grounded.
But we eventually weary of just about everything being paraded before us, especially the histrionics of Uday, in this quasi-gangster flick that’s low lighted by scenes of murder, torture and rape. Everything, that is, except for the impressive, star-making dual performance by Cooper.
Cooper, aided at times by truly amazing split-screen illusions that allow him to play opposite himself, is as Pacino-in-Scarface crazed as the monstrously villainous Uday as he is appropriately restrained and principled as Latif.
In the final analysis, and despite enjoying the always-fascinating one-actor-playing-two-parts stunt, we exit wishing we had seen a lot less of the vile Uday and at least a bit more of Latif — or perhaps just more of Latif’s literal point-of-view. All we know is it seems hypocritical to disapprove so strongly of Uday and yet focus on him so extensively.
Director Tamahori should realize that audiences made up of psychos who identify with Uday and consider his actions playful shenanigans will have a field day. So bully for them — and for the director who provides them this obnoxious outlet.
Still, we’ll impersonate 2 stars out of 4 for the sensationalistic thriller, The Devil’s Double, which is objectionable if not repulsive despite being distinguished by Dominic’s devilish double dip.