starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Mem Ferda, Dar Salim
written by: Michael Thomas
directed by: Lee Tamahori
MPAA: Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence and torture, sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and pervasive language
The Devil’s Double takes a fascinating premise – the true-life story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi army lieutenant who was forced to become Uday Hussein’s body double – and turns it into a big dumb action movie. It aspires to be a Middle Eastern Scarface, but aside from Dominic Cooper’s dazzling high-wire dual performance, it lacks that film’s virtuosic bravado. Rather, it is trashy, tasteless, and numbingly gratuitous.
Latif (Cooper) had the misfortune not only of being an old schoolmate of Uday (also Cooper), but also being a dead ringer for him. So when Uday decides that he needs a body double for public appearance and security purposes, he arranges for Latif to be snatched away from his military service and brought to the vast Hussein palaces. Of course, Uday isn’t merely offering Latif the job; he has already made the decision for him. If Latif doesn’t agree, Uday will have his family killed. So, forbidden from having any further contact with his loved ones, Latif begins transforming himself into Uday.
And what is Uday like? He is a foaming-at-the-mouth party-boy psychotic for whom every night is ’80s night. He has equally ravenous appetites for drugs, sex, and violence. Don’t believe me? Then please, by all means, allow the film to spell it out for you. Because that’s pretty much all it does: repeatedly reinforce what an irredeemable monster Uday Hussein was by showing you scene after scene of shockingly graphic carnage – and little else. By the time he shows up at a wedding to claim the beaming bride for a nice raping, all I could think was, Alright, movie, I fucking get it.
This is nearly the entire substance of the film: Uday being a lethally childish tyrant while everyone around him scampers to stay out of his kill/fuck zone. There is, of course, the question of how and when Latif will be able to break free of his enslavement, and also a misbegotten subplot in which he falls for Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), one of Uday’s favorite whores, which leads to one of the film’s many lapses in taste: a bombastic sex scene edited against the backdrop of Baghdad being bombed. Not since Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley got it on in The Naked Gun has there been such delicate symbolism in a love-making sequence.
All bitching aside, this is a genuinely stunning performance from Dominic Cooper. None of his previous work – he is perhaps best known for Mamma Mia! – gave any indication that he was capable of such petrifying, wild-eyed ferocity. Despite nice turns in small films like An Education and Tamara Drewe, this will likely prove to be his star-making performance, and may even garner him some awards attention. He has finally catapulted himself out of the Just A Pretty Face Club. And you know how my heart breaks for all the poor kids in that club.
Although, of course, there is the rather problematic matter of him being a Caucasian Englishman playing two Iraqi men. Regardless of how well he plays the roles, you still have to ask why he’s playing them in the first place. And the nationality-blind casting doesn’t stop there: Caucasian French actress Ludivine Sagnier, best known for her frequently nude turn in Swimming Pool, is unrecognizable in her be-wigged turn as Sarrab. She also puts amusingly little effort into transforming her French accent into an Iraqi one; Cooper fares better.
In addition to Cooper’s performance, the film is also successful in its visual look, courtesy of cinematographer Sam McCurdy. Everything onscreen looks absolutely stunning, as if it’s been bathed in a golden glow. This is perhaps another reason why the film is reminiscent of Tony Scott: the colors lean toward the stylishly saturated. And like a Tony Scott movie, it certainly isn’t boring. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on a movie that gives us two naked Dominic Coopers in a shower together. But for every Cooper butt shot, you also have to see a disemboweling or a graphic torture scene or some form of sexual violence. And it’s all just cruelty for cruelty’s sake. The Devil’s Double is ultimately a torture-porn dude flick disguised as a history lesson.