REVIEW: The Devil’s Double [2011]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 109 minutes | Release Date: July 29th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: A-Film Distribution / Herrick Entertainment / Lionsgate
Director(s): Lee Tamahori
Writer(s): Michael Thomas / Latif Yahia (books)

“What happens if I say no?”

An intriguing subject for sure, Lee Tamahori‘s new film takes us inside Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror like never before. Using the life story of Latif Yahia, The Devil’s Double shows the sort of hubris at the heart of this tyrant’s stranglehold over the Iraqi people. Constantly a threat for assassination, the use of fedais (doubles) was a prominent practice in order to remain safe and protect the kingdom. Not to be outdone, however, Hussein’s son Uday found he could have some fun by acquiring one himself. A man in love with his own image, this psychopath recalls an old classmate from youth who was always told of an uncanny likeness. Capturing him with an ultimatum of compliance or death, Latif becomes the new son of Saddam and witnesses the chaos and brutality first-hand.

A solider that would give his life for his country, Latif (Dominic Cooper in a dual role playing Uday as well) is shown inside the fight as dirt and comrades explode around him. Brought to the kingdom in style without knowing the purpose, he is greeted by the Prince’s smile and ecstatic look of glee to see the striking resemblance has carried through the years. Buck-toothed with a goofy visage and lightning quick temper, Uday can’t even wait the ten minutes he gives for a decision everyone knows has only one outcome. Defiant and faithful to his family above a man who flippantly lies that his country is top priority, however, Latif finds himself imprisoned in the desert until he comes around with the added threat of going to his home to murder everyone. There’s nothing like a little Hussein strong-arm to get results.

Needing cosmetic surgery and dental bridges for appearance, it’s Munem’s (Raad Rawi) job to teach mannerisms and disposition. A ‘good man in a bad job’, it isn’t hard to see his own disapproval of the man he’s sworn to protect. Uday is a monstrous creature with no regard for the sanctity of life as long as he gets a turn with any woman’s body he feels like possessing. Latif realizes this early on and understands the fear inherent in Munem and the guards surrounding the mad man. Still principled, Latif refuses to stand by as his ‘brother’ snatches girls from schoolyards. His doubling is reserved for pep rally events and public soirees the Prince doesn’t feel like attending only. Passing the test for public consumption in Saddam’s eyes (Philip Quast), the likeness stops at physical features. Like Uday’s real brother says, “I could tell because he’s sober and not foaming at the mouth.”

The Devil’s Double is a brilliant character study as Cooper deftly embodies both men. Green screen effects allow them to coexist, but the actor’s ability to transform Latif into Uday when necessary is quite effective. One of the year’s best performances as a result, Cooper gives Hussein an unpredictable confidence that can change at the drop of a hat. It’s over-the-top but never caricature—we must believe his insanity to be able to see him as the vile animal he is. The immaturity shown as he cavorts with drag queens, drugs and rapes teenagers, and snorts cocaine Tony Montana style from a large knife actually makes him despicable in his father’s eyes too. Relinquished of his birthright to take the kingdom upon Saddam’s death in real life, I can’t even imagine the atrocities to befall the world if he’d been allowed to rule Iraq.

It’s a role so flamboyant with his interactions in the club scene and treatment of women as possessions that the flipside becomes more resonate. Latif is a slave with nothing to lose since he is now without an identity and dead to his family courtesy of a lie he’d perished in the war. It’s through Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), Uday’s ‘best whore’, that we see the glaring differences. Treated as a person to love and cherish, Latif genuinely fears for her life since Uday would put a bullet in her head if even the suspicion arose of her infidelity. Punished for his genes, he’d kill himself if it meant hurting the monster pulling at his strings. Refusing to partake in the erratic killings but unable to remove himself from scenes of torturous abuse like the murder of Saddam’s best friend at a dinner party or the decimation of a bride on her wedding night, Latif finally reconciles escape is his only hope for survival.

Interspersed with footage from the Gulf War and the atrocities on Kuwait, we watch thwarted assassination attempts due to the double’s sobriety and military training. The lack of both makes it a wonder Uday hadn’t been killed previous to finding his public replacement—having one only makes him more careless. Tamahori shows the violence in its entirety and carries the story through to its hypothetical end with as much care towards fact as allowed. The fact Yahia wrote about his experiences and helped with the film admits his survival, but his final act for freedom is portrays a possible exaggeration we’ll never know if true. A character twist I wasn’t expecting is almost wasted and the abrupt finish is as though the filmmakers had nothing else to say. Until then, however, The Devil’s Double effectively makes us abhor the Husseins more and applaud a true warrior who sacrificed to help his country survive despite its thieving monarchy.

[1] Ludivine Sagnier and Dominic Cooper star in THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE. Photo credit: Sofie Van Mieghem
[2] Dominic Cooper stars in THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE. Photo credit: Sofie Van Mieghem
[3] Dominic Cooper stars as Latif Yahia (left) and Uday Hussein (right) in THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.