The Devil’s Double has been on my radar for a while now. After a successful tour on the festival circuit, Lee Tamahori‘s explosive film is finally seeing a theatrical release, and deservedly so.
The Devil’s Double is hands down the best film I’ve seen all summer and come December when I look back on the year to make my best of list, you can be sure The Devil’s Double will find its way into one of the top spots. Both haunting and chilling, The Devil’s Double is a fantastic film that features a central performance so compelling, you’d be foolish to look away even for a second. Taking on a massive challenge, Dominic Cooper plays two characters in this true (although highly fictionalized) story.
On one hand we have Uday Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein and a complete maniac in every sense of the word. Uday is a man living in his own world, one where morals and rules don’t exist. One where society and any other individual but him don’t matter and aren’t important. He is blinded by his megalomania and he sees himself as a God-like figure. All that being said, he is also an utterly fascinating character and one that is impossible to take your eyes off of. The man is a dangerous psychopath and an absoute nut case.
Then on the other hand we have Latif Yahia, who went to school with Uday. Latif is special though as he happens to look almost identical to Uday. But that’s where the similarities end. While Latif bears a striking resemblance to the deranged Prince, he is a completely different person at heart. For one, he has morals.
Aside from that, he is grounded, he has a good heart and he is a kind man. In all truthfulness, he couldn’t be any different from Uday, the two are complete opposites. But, he does look almost the exact same as Uday and so, he is asked to be Uday’s body double. Actually, the word ‘ask’ implies that he had a choice. Let me rephrase that, Latif is forced into being Uday’s body double.
The film itself is told from Latif’s point of view as it is based on his life story. It depicts the relationship between the two men and their time spent together. We watch as Latif is groomed for the role and is forced to change everything about himself so that he can best resemble Uday, not only in appearance but in mannerisms, expressions, speech etc.
As the innocent Latif is pulled further into Uday’s twisted and sadistic world, he realizes that he can’t continue on like this and he must escape this demented nightmare before it’s too late. There’s just one problem, Uday doesn’t want to let him go. And if there’s one thing you don’t want to do, it’s going against the orders of an utter lunatic, who just also happens to be the son of Saddam Hussein.
The Devil’s Double is not only an intoxicating look into the life of Uday Hussein and his body double Latif Yahia, but it’s also an absolutely fascinating and gripping look at how the Hussein family lived during their time in power. This is a shocking glimpse into the life of a true madmen. Blood, drugs, sex and nudity fill most of the scenes as Tamahori takes us further into the madness that is Uday Hussein’s life. Both powerful and mesmerising in its depiction of the supposed real life events, the film brings the Western world an eye opening look at what life was like in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.
Lavish and eye appealing set design highlight Uday’s gaudy playgrounds as we watch the Prince prance around his palace with not a care in the world. Some of the set work here is really quite impressive, especially considering how much money they had to work with. Shot in Malta on a $15 million dollar budget, the production values here are fantastic. They really transformed the place into an accurate representation of Iraq.
Cinematographer Sam McCurdy does a wonderful job capturing the twisted world of Uday. Along with Tamahori, he crafts a visually appealing film. Throw in soundtrack choices like You Spin Me Around (Like A Record) and Relax, and you get an aurally pleasing film as well. Make up effects are also top notch as they always ensure that we can tell the difference between Uday and Latif, despite the fact that it’s the same person playing both parts.
And then we come to the real highlight of the film. Dominic Cooper, playing both Latif and Uday, offers an absolutely electrifying performance. The man is a beast, one minute turning into the horrifying and sadistic Uday and the next, changing gears into the good hearted and honorable Latif. Cooper’s work here deserves the utmost respect as he convincingly portrays these two characters who are polar opposites. He steals every scene he’s in (which is almost all of them) and he is riveting to watch. Not only does he have to portray both Latif and Uday but in some scenes, he must portray Latif portraying Uday. It’s the type of work that only the most talented of actors can do and Cooper completely nails it.
It’s tough enough for an actor to nail down one character, especially one as wild and insane as Uday. But to be able to completely go in the opposite direction for another character, and in the same film, now that’s called acting ladies and gentlemen. Copper seamlessly transitions between both Uday and Latif, changing his mannerisms, speech patterns, voice, expressions, body language etc.
It’s a performance that is awe-inspiring and one that is wholly deserving of an Oscar. Dominic Cooper‘s performance alone is worth the price of admission. The other actors hardly even matter here as they don’t stand a chance when Cooper is on screen. He’s just so damn good that it’s hard to really care about or pay attention to anyone else. It’s a wildly impressive performance and one that stands out as one of the best that we’ve seen in 2011.
I’ve actually met and spent time with Cooper in person and he couldn’t be more different than his role in The Devil’s Double. After meeting him it made me appreciate his acting even more as I realized what a transformation he had to go through to become both Uday and Latif.
Ludivine Sagnier appears as Uday’s salacious girl-toy Sarrab, Raad Rawi portrays the wise Munem, an advisor of sorts to Uday and Philip Quast shows up as the big boss, Saddam Hussein. The supporting players here aren’t necessarily bad but the fact of the matter is that none of them can really shine with Cooper in the frame. His screen presence is just too powerful.
Lee Tamahori, who up to this point hasn’t had anything worthy on his resume, is confident behind the camera. He offers up sleek, dynamic and energetic direction, constantly throwing us lurid scenes of madness and never losing our attention. The only parts that suffer a bit are the ones that involve a romantic subplot between Sarrab and Latif. It’s never convincing or believable and Sarrab is a terrible character to begin with, flat and one dimensional.
Also, I felt that we didn’t get as deep a look into Latif’s head as we should have. A voice over or narration by him would have made a big difference and would have let us into his mind. A lot of the time it looks like he has something important to say but he doesn’t and that’s where the narration would be perfect. The character is too stoic and passive. This isn’t Cooper’s fault but rather the fault of some misguided writing decisions.
Minor errors aside, The Devil’s Double is one hell of a good film. I loved it and would be the first in line to see it again. Dominic Cooper is a revelation as Uday/Latif and he will undoubtedly see his star rise thanks to this performance. He elevates the material onto another level and does a truly remarkable job. This is an engrossing and compelling film that will both shock, scare and astound you. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a very long time and I can’t recommend it enough. The Devil’s Double is an electrifying and captivating gangster film that is on part with the best in the genre.