Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
body double / impostor
money in the Bible
abuse of power
violence and brutality
sadism (“the derivation of pleasure as a result of inflicting pain or watching pain inflicted on others”)
What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer
|Featuring:||Dominic Cooper … Latif Yahia/Uday Hussein—“The Duchess,” “An Education,” “Mamma Mia!”
Ludivine Sagnier … Sarrab
Raad Rawi … Munem
Mem Ferda … Kamel Hannah
Dar Salim … Azzam Al-Tikriti
Khalid Laith … Yassem Al-Helou
Pano Masti … Said Kammuneh
Nasser Memarzia … Latif’s Father
Philip Quast … Saddam Hussein
|Director:||Lee Tamahori—“Die Another Day,” “xXx: State of the Union”|
Corrino Media Corporation
“Sex… Power… Too much money… What do you get a ‘prince’ who has everything?”
“The Devil’s Double” will most likely be remembered for its standout dual performance by Dominic Cooper (“Mama Mia”, “The History Boys”, “An Education”). He plays Saddam Hussein’s late son, Uday Hussein, as well as Uday’s former classmate and current body double, Latif Yahia. Cooper is so good that he almost overshadows everyone and everything else in the movie. Almost, but not quite, because the film offers a lot more than Cooper’s sterling performance.
The action takes place in Iraq during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and highlights the story of a man’s search for an identity, one that he finds when he confronts and understands the man who is his father.
The most moving scene in the film, the one in which Cooper nails his two roles, and the movie comes into its own, is the moment Latif takes an order from his father over a telephone which Uday is holding to Latif’s ear. It is a tragic moment, but a life-affirming one. It is a great scene, one that perfectly portrays the delicate balance between loss and victory. Latif knows himself, when he knows his father.
The story takes place in a Muslim culture in a Muslim country, yet its theme is universal. It has a prodigal son quality, even though the character does not squander his inheritance; he has his taken away from him, and even though his circumstances are unique, he experiences that moment we all do, hopefully, when we come to our senses, or as some Bible translators say, when we come to know ourselves, and are found.
Uday Hussein was a modern day middle eastern version of ancient Rome’s Caligula. Uday lived in splendor in a Baghdad palace his father built for him. Many of his atrocities are not portrayed in the film; the filmmakers pass on the notorious rape rooms, the torture of children, and the torture of Olympic athletes who did not live up to Uday’s dreams of Iraqi glory. Abu Graib prison is mentioned briefly; there is a threat to send Latif’s entire family to that notorious jail, if he does not comply with Uday’s wishes; if they are sent there, Latif is advised to pray that his family “dies quickly”. Evidently, Abu Graib was a chamber of horrors long before (some might say until) U. S. Forces came to town.
Uday had certain titles and responsibilities in his father’s “cabinet”: he was some kind of foreign minister,, and he played soldier with some of the military regiments, but he mostly goofed around, living the life of a party animal and a mama’s boy, which would have been fine if he was a harmless cipher along the lines of an Edward Simpson or a Billy Carter, but Uday was a man with huge appetites and no moral compass. He lived solely for his own pleasure, and lacked any sense of guilt or remorse for his treachery. The more evil his deed, the more it tickled him. This is a man who defiles another man’s bride on her wedding day, and trolls for schoolgirls on the street. When he is done with a teenager, he has her body abandoned on a deserted road.
Uday selected Latif Yahia to be his double in the same way that his father used a stand-in, possibly many, to protect himself against the mobs and to give the impression that he was omnipresent and therefore omnipotent. Yahia must undergo a physical transformation, some of it surgical, in order to be that perfect double. Fortunately the film spares us a long montage of one character morphing into another. This is an action film, after all. An Ingmar Bergman merged-persona drama it’s not.
I was also relieved to see the mistaken identity plot (“North By Northwest”) or the hero in disguise twist (any superhero movie), either of which could have been an easy, but tedious, plot driver, left out. This is the story of a man who wants to shed an unwanted disguise, so he can be himself. It is not an easy quest, and not just because he knows he is in danger of getting on the bad side of a keeper who is a hot tempered, homicidal savage. His mercurial benefactor does throw him a few bones. Latif gets a taste of the power that Uday has always known and exploited. It is not a sour one. There is an allure to crime—remember those opening scenes in “Goodfellas”?—that can be as intoxicating as a drug, when taken the first or second time. Latif has moments when the power gets to his head, but fortunately those spells don’t last long. He subs for Uday when the U.S. Forces go to war against Hussein’s forces to oust the dictator from Kuwait, and Latif addresses the Iraqi soldiers with the fire, if not the fatherly respect, of a Henry V. He knows he has a gift, an ability to connect and to lead, that Uday will never have.
The plot is tighter than a lot of today’s action movies—that’s not saying a lot—but it still has some holes, and, at times, it’s hard to follow, even with a historical background, and a recent one at that. Latif escapes the palace and flees Baghdad; he winds up in Malta, where he is followed; he returns to Iraq; he tries to get out again, this time for good. That’s too much back and forth for a story that should stay on a course, preferably a straightforward one. However, when the action sequences work, they work well. Slow motion cinematography and fast cutting make for a few gripping and suspenseful thrills, even though we know from recent history how most of these events turn out.
Aside from Cooper’s, the only notable performance is one by Ludivine Sagnier who plays Sarrab, a mistress to both Uday and Latif. Her affections are as relative as the values of the world she inhabits. Unlike her two lovers, she has no core; she can adapt to whatever is at hand, be it good or evil. Unfortunately, Philip Quast, as Saddam Hussein, is a yawn inducing dud. In fairness to Quast, he was probably directed that way, so that he could not steal the thunder from Cooper’s portrayal of Uday. That was a bet gone sour. Surely Saddam was worthy of more than a few scenes, the culmination of which should have been a hair raiser—Saddam threatens to mutilate his son with a sword—but is instead a letdown. Quast does not offer up so much as a sly sneer or a twisted grin. Like most monsters, those onscreen (Hannibal Lecter, Colonel Hans Landa in “Inglorious Basterds”), and those off (Papa Joe Stalin, Ted Bundy), Saddam had the most engaging of smiles. The élan and the panache—Saddam was nothing if not a great performer in public—are nowhere to be found here.
Director Lee Tamahori (“Die Another Day”) piles on the atrocities, one horror after another, but the effect is not numbing. Uday’s sins are not acts of weakness, but willful deeds done in the service of evil. They are not easy to watch, and there is no apocalyptic or cleansing end; there is no “Dirty Harry” moment. We all know what ultimately happens to Uday Hussein, his father, and his father’s regime, but the movie does not explore how the kingdom came to be that way.
Tamahori gives us more than a few good action sequences (the screenplay is by Michael Thomas and based on Latif Yahia’s autobiography), especially one involving an assassination attempt on Uday in a crowded street market, but his greatest achievement here is setting a stage for a virtuoso performance by his leading man.
The film contains a lot of graphic violence. There is one explicit sex scene, and there is quite a bit of male and female nudity. The language is coarse.
“The Devil’s Double”, though uneven in parts, is a fascinating character study, one in which good doesn’t seem to have a chance against evil. Yet, this brutal tale does have a heart. It is about two fathers and two sons. One family was consumed by evil. Another came close to being lost, until they saw something in each other that brought them back from the brink. They came to their senses. They found themselves.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
“…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. …[2/5]”
—Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle
“…the cruelty it depicts becomes repetitive or, worse still, desensitizing. But ‘The Devil’s Double’ does give us indelible images of Uday’s decadence—the filmmakers say they’re understated—and a double dip of dazzling acting.”
—Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal
“…The movie is above all entertaining, if you enjoy human grotesquerie and flamboyant acting. … This movie is not quite based on fact. Tamahori and writer Michael Thomas make it clear they’ve fictionalized a great deal, and although they cite Latif Yahia’s own book as their source, that itself is a novel. …[3/4]”
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“…A blistering, brutal Iraqi Scarface. You do wonder what the point of it all is, but Cooper is fantastic. Twice. Where other filmmakers have tip-toed pensively through the minefield of Iraq, Lee Tamahori jumps into his monster truck, puts on his blindfold and bulldozes right through it. Refusing point-blank to engage in any kind of political debate… [3/5]”
—Simon Crook, Empire [UK]
“…litany of murder and debauchery… Like ‘Scarface,’ but with a difference… this account has the depth of an ET profile… [1½|/4]”
—Peter Keough, The Boston Phoenix