The Devil's Double

The Devil's Double


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

With films concerning conflict in Iraq piling up thick and fast - from Hollywood fare such as The Hurt Locker and Redacted through to arthouse offerings such as Ahlaam and documentaries including My Country, My Country - it's quite surprising that, with the exception of mini- series House Of Saddam, it has taken someone this long to get round to dictator Saddam Hussein and his family themselves. It's a shame then that now a film has come along, Lee Tamahori opts to swim in the shallow waters of gaudy exploitation rather than exploring some of the deeper issues of the politics of power.

What is right with The Devil's Double begins and ends with Dominic Cooper's blisteringly good performance as both Saddam Hussein's son Uday and his body double Latif Yahia, on whose biography this film is based. Cooper is, in fact, so good in the dual roles that he papers over the cracks of scripting and tonal see- sawing more than Tamahori deserves.

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Uday, it will not surprise you to learn, was an unpleasant piece of work, with a nasty habit of whisking young schoolgirls off the street, drugging them, raping and killing them and a lot more besides. Latif, on the other hand, is the audience surrogate - a righteous man, who through a quirk of genetics, ends up having to be party to Uday's insanity while simultaneously powerless to stop it. Cooper plays Uday as a full-on caricature, pushing him to the edge of believability in his excesses. As Latif, however, he reins everything back in and succeeds in mustering up a fair degree of sympathy.

Latif, initially, plays his role in the regime, becoming increasingly sick to his stomach with Uday's actions but, when he also finds himself falling for his boss's favourite squeeze (Ludivine Sagnier), it seems something has got to give.

The problem lies, not with Cooper or even Sagnier - although her role is so underwritten its surprising an actress of her talent signed up for it - but with Tamahori's decision to wallow in the sleazy, excessive aspects of Uday's life to an unecessary and off-putting extent. Shooting scenes of bridal rape and schoolgirl abuse that, presumably, actually happened to real people, as though they are fictional aspects of a James Bond film is at best rather tawdry and at worst a real slap in the face to those who suffered all-too-recently at the hands of the Hussein regime.

This is a particularly odd choice, given that real footage of the country is used to 'set the scene' for the film - a decision that also has the unfortunate effect of making later street scenes look as though they have been culled from an Indiana Jones film rather than a real place. Tamahori also feels the need to turn the 'romance' aspect between Latif and Sagnier's Sarrab up to the level of a cheesy romance novel - watching them ride on horses into a sunset part way through the movie is a particular low point.

Throw in a handful of plotholes so deep you can hear their echo for the rest of the film and you're left with a missed opportunity. For all this, Cooper, miraculously, keeps the whole thing watchable but you'll feel as though you need a shower afterwards.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2011
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The Devil's Double packshot
The story of Uday Hussein, as seen through the eyes of his body double.
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Director: Lee Tamahori

Writer: Michael Thomas

Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Mem Ferda, Dar Salim, Khalid Laith, Pano Masti, Nasser Memarzia, Philip Quast, Selva Rasalingam, Mark Mifsud, Mimoun Oaïssa, Stewart Scudamore, Jamie Harding, Akin Gazi

Year: 2010

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Belgium, Netherlands


Sundance 2011

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