Tentatively based on the life story of Latif Yahia, body double to Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, The Devil’s Double tells of Uday’s world and his lust for a life of power, wealth and debauchery. When ordinary Iraqi Latif is handpicked for a life as someone else, he must battle against the system to reclaim his existence and be reunited with his family.
Through his screenplay, Michael Thomas manages to capture the absurdity and menace of Uday’s psychotic inclinations and his fondness for extreme violence, but he fails to take these ideas any further than base level. Instead he opts for the easy route, offering a mismatched approach fixated on extremities, gratuitous nudity and explicit gore. Moreover, he introduces a cliched and incomprehensible love triangle, which only serves to destroy any feeling of truth the loose association of Yahia’s autobiograpy brings.
Lee Tamahori’s direction, while obviously flourishing amidst the violence and gruesomeness, slowly becomes tedious and disorientating. It’s clear from the offset he wasn’t the right choice, as his insistence on overblown execution exemplified through his use of lens flares and flashy editing techniques detracts from the subject matter contained within. The music only serves to exacerbate this, constantly clamouring in increasingly overdramatic fervour.
In a cheap attempt to add weight, as well as historical and political context, Tamahori injects the narrative with archive footage of Saddam Hussein and George Bush from the late 1980’s. This simply feels forced and fails to add any depth to an already inadequately told tale, coming across as nothing more than a gimmick.
It’s a relief, then, that Dominic Cooper’s dual performance is so astounding, continually texturing each character with layer upon layer of substance throughout. While Uday exudes a creepy, adolescent nature, he plays Latif with a soft-spoken sobriety and solid moral grounding. Not only does this provide an excellent degree of investment in the characters, but it also does wonders in making the audience believe these two men were, and remained throughout, separate beings with entirely different personalities and ethics.
On the other end of the spectrum, the supporting cast, including Ludivine Sagnier as Sarrab and Philip Quast as Saddam Hussein, never feel like anything more than caricatures. This is most likely due to the fact that their personae feel extremely underwritten, with Saddam in particular relying heavily on the pre-made public perception of the man. Raad Rawi, on the other hand, holds his own as Uday and Latif’s personal aide, delivering a purely believable performance.
Contrived, devoid of emotional investment and overlong, The Devil’s Double was saved only by Dominic Cooper’s tour de force performance and the feeling that there’s an important tale in there, somewhere, crying to be told effectively.