The Devil’s Double review

Review Nick Horton 7 Aug 2011 - 15:03

A triumph for Dominic Cooper, The Devil's Double doesn't quite deliver as a film. Here's Nick's review...

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, they say. But what happens when this power is first wielded by a family already beyond the limits of human behaviour, and then loaned to a decent man?

The Devil's Double is based on a true story which is so incredible, unbelievable and intriguing that it simply had to be made into a film. Set during the late 80s to the mid-90s, it tells the tale of Iraqi soldier, Latif Yahia, a man who, due to a close resemblance to Uday Hussein, son of Saddam, was forced into posing as a double of the sadistic younger Hussein, a man so decadent, wanton and brutal that Saddam himself disinherited him from the succession, preferring Uday's younger and apparently more ‘stable' brother.

Latif is surgically altered to be even more of a copy, given access to all of Uday's worldly belongings, and then forced to be party to this madness, witnessing numerous murders, tortures, rapes and abductions, often of young schoolgirls. As Uday's behaviour spirals even further out of control during the first Iraq War, Latif is forced to play the double more and more. The good man inside rebels, and with the added complication of a forbidden love with Uday's mistress, the stage is set for a showdown between the two men.

Marking a definite return to form for director, Lee Tamahori, The Devil's Double is an engaging and fascinating look at an often ignored piece of recent history, the family dynamics of the Hussein family, and the inner workings of the regime. It's a frequently excessive tour through some of Uday's greatest crimes.

In fact, if you do a little research on the man, you'll quickly find that it omits some of the more heinous acts. After all, this is a man that the recently deposed Egyptian tyrant, Hosni Mubarak, called a 'psychopath'. And it's in bringing this monster to life and the man who was tasked with being him, that the film finds its greatest strength, and for my money, the single most compelling reason to go and see it. Because, quite simply, Dominic Cooper is immense in the dual role, dominating the screen with his craft in a way I haven't seen in a long time. His presence lights up every scene he's in, and luckily, he's in pretty much all of them.

Cooper is faced with an almost Herculean task in this film. He must essentially create three separate characters, Uday, Latif, and then Latif impersonating Uday. All must be different, and we, the audience, must be able to tell who we're with and when. And he succeeds.

First are the subtle, yet crucial physical differences between the two men, the teeth and hair most prominent as well as the nose shape. But they wouldn't be enough on their own. Cooper inhabits each character individually. His voice is different (one high and demented, the other deeper and more masculine), and his posture altered.

Uday is a manic ball of energy, ready to turn on anyone at a moment's notice, while Latif is a calm and measured presence. Watching Cooper face off against Cooper is a joy to behold and one which you can follow clearly. You will genuinely believe these two men are different, save for their identical visages.

He also succeeds in making you invest in the two characters, which is an incredible feat, not least because one of these characters is a sociopathic killer with no redeeming qualities. But by Cooper's own admission, the way into the character is through his torturous father issues. Imagine having Saddam Hussein as your role model. Both men are compelling to watch as they go through their twisted together journey.

However, sadly for The Devil's Double, Cooper's compelling performances alone are not enough to make this a truly great film and save it from its faults. While the true story is an amazing tale, and one which deserves wide exposure, somehow this just doesn't get it quite right. The film takes a while to settle, and never really seems to know what it wants to be. Is it biopic, social commentary, war film, thriller, love story or character study? It tries to be all of the above and more, and sadly, this proves its undoing.

It never seems to settle into an easy rhythm, trying to cram incident after incident in, plot point after plot point, rather than just spending time with the main event, the relationship between Uday and Latif. What was it like day to day becoming a monster? What does that do to a man? These are the questions I wished it had explored, rather than just been shown Uday killing, snorting and raping, and then suddenly Latif being disgusted and standing up to him. What led him to find this confidence?

Even more baffling is the shoehorned-in love story between Latif and Sarrab, the supposedly untouchable mistress of Uday, played by Ludivine Sagnier. It almost seems as if her only role in the piece is to create a dynamic of tension between the two men, which is completely unnecessary, as one already exists, and a much more powerful one than someone stealing your woman. The dramatic dynamic of someone stealing your identity (and this goes both ways) is surely more artistically compelling.

This storyline is also not helped in any way by a baffling and illogical dénouement, which serves no real purpose other than to waste a bit of time before getting to the big ending. In fact, it only serves to drag the film under and make what is a brief hundred and four-minute running time seem overlong. A real shame.

Make no mistake, though, this film is worth seeing for Dominic Cooper. This should surely be the role that makes him, and gives him an opportunity for future leading parts. If you only know him for his somewhat slight supporting gigs, then be prepared to be blown away. This is one of the finest acting tours de force you will see in this or any other year. It's just a pity the rest of the film can't keep up with him.

3 stars

3

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