The Devil’s Double

1 Sep

Title: The Devil’s Double
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Lee Tamahori
Writer: Michael Thomas, based on the novel by Latif Yahia
Starring: 
Dominic Cooper, Philip Quast, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi
MPAA Rating: 
R, strong brutal bloody violence and torture, sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and pervasive language
Runtime: 
109 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 
57%

 

The Devil’s Double was by no means an extraordinary movie, though it was still definitely a quite good one, but what it certainly was, was a coming-out party for Dominic Cooper as a true talent to keep an eye on. He’s the handsome Brit who got known to most after he romanced Amanda Seyfried, who would then become his on-again-off-again real-life girlfriend, in 2008’s Mamma Mia!, and while that film isn’t horrible and made a killing at the box office, it only established him as a minor heartthrob at not a great new actor. But it did get his name out there for him to nab and make the most out of supporting roles in films like The Duchess, last year’s Tamara Drewe and the fantastic An Education, not to mention his turn as Howard Stark in this year’s awesome blockbuster Captain America: The First Avenger, and those films in turn helped him get the experience to really rock the hell out of his role in this one, which he seriously does.

Seriously, the only reason to watch The Devil’s Double is to watch Mr. Cooper, and it’s a truly good reason and worth the price of admission by itself. Because really, the role is just so incredibly juicy, that of Latif Yahia, on who’s book the story is based, the guy who was the body double to Uday Hussein, the son of Saddam, a pretty crazy guy with a lifestyle that cemented that even further. Oh, and yes, Mr. Cooper also plays Uday. Getting to play two distinct roles is no easy task, nailing them as perfectly as Mr. Cooper does here is a feat worthy of being lauded. This is not the same guy you saw singing on a Greek beach three years ago, this is a true actor in fine form, making an otherwise uneven film intensely watchable all by himself.

Because that’s really the truth of the matter, outside of the incendiary and impeccable performance by Mr. Cooper, both as a derranged and evil man with access to insane amounts of power and as a the man forced to step into the shoes of a man wanted dead by so many, there’s really nothing much going on for The Devil’s Double. Latif Yahia was an Iraqi soldier, forced to become this human target for Uday, and adopt every single trait and mannerism and the whole excess-filled lifestyle of him in the process, or else his family would pay the price. The movie thus relies a lot on the relationship built between these two men, one a man who wouldn’t hesitate to torture and rape, and the other a man who clearly disliked him, and was even brave enough to stand up to him, if only to then pose as him in order to keep his own family safe, even though he did splurge into a few of the luxuries available to him as the man he was forced to become.

This isn’t a biopic though, it’s not even a film that deals all that much with the politic side of it all, it’s just a more plain-out gangster movie, just one based on this extraordinary real-life story, but otherwise it’s your typical film with a lot of weapons, cars and women, and the consequences that having such amazing wealth might, both having it since the minute you were born like Uday or thrown into it unwilling like Latif. And it’s really amazing when you think about it how gangster the Hussein family really was in the 80’s and 90’s, which is when this movie takes place, with Saddam being this grumpy patriarch à la Tony Soprano, truly worried by the everyday doings in the life of an evil tyrant, and then his son, a guy born with this power, who has to do nothing to keep it, and who seems to do so many irresponsible things with it both because of that, and because he wants to frustrate his old man. If you’re reminded of Al Pacino in Scarface when seeing Dominic Cooper here, I don’t think that’s by accident.

This all isn’t true though, even the source material is more of a novel than a memoir, and director Lee Tamahori and writer Michael Thomas aren’t exactly hiding the fact that a lot of this is fictionalized. In real life Latif was groomed to be Uday since way earlier in his life, and he probably wasn’t as stand-up a guy as he’s portrayed as here (and why would he be shown in a bad light considering he wrote the source material and even has a small role here?). And that’s really I think my trouble with this film ultimately, those ambiguities it has, not because it takes so many historical liberties, I don’t mind that one bit, but because I didn’t really get the intentions of this film. One can say that it’s only purpose is to entertain, and it does that, Mr. Cooper makes sure of it singlehandedly, but there were so many times I felt this film could be something truly spectacular, and then something about it let it down to fall into just “good” territory, maybe it was the fact that there were a lot of obvious questions that weren’t answered, nor many times even asked, or that some supporting characters and performances didn’t hold up all that well, mostly that of Sarrab, Uday’s mistress.

Yes, The Devil’s Double may sacrifice historical stuff just for the sake of being sensationalist, in that sense the film becomes simply outrageous instead of thought-provoking. But even though many things weren’t executed well enough, this film still had two things going on for it, a pretty amazing story to tell that would no doubt be great to see told, and in Mr. Cooper an actor who really rises up to the plate and gives one of the year’s best performances, and certainly the best dual one, a truly remarkable showcasing of his talents as he many times acts alongside himself, and thanks to great visual effects you really are able to get lost in his performance(s). I said his acting chops here were worth the price of admission by themselves, and I stand by that.

Grade: B

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