Starring: Dominic Cooper, Philip Quast, Ludivine Sagnier
Biographical films usually fall into one of two categories; either they have something poignant to say about the subject, perhaps offering a new perspective on well known events, or one which wants to document a specific event in time in a cool and funky way so that the kids “get down” with history (think I am losing social points as we speak!). Unfortunately, The Devil’s Double falls somewhere in between.
Directed by Lee Tamahori, The Devil’s Double follows the alleged story of Latif Yahia (Cooper), an Iraqi soldier who becomes a body double for Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday Hussein (also played by Cooper). Whilst Latif is initially reluctant to take on this role, a combination of torture and threats result in him leading a life that he does not wish to, following and impersonating a man who is despicable in every sense.
Dominic Cooper is somewhat of an enigma for me. At times I find him a solid actor who seems to try his hand at a variety of roles (let’s not forget he is Tony Stark’s father, after all), but sometimes I feel he get’s a little lost amongst better actors and a strong story. Ironically enough, this film seems to show off both his sides. As Uday, Cooper is let off the leash and his performance is at time frightening. Assuming that his portrayal of the Hussein son is even remotely close to how Uday behaved in real life, it is difficult to believe that such a man, so repulsive that even a tyrant like Saddam was disappointed in him, even actually existed.
On the flip side, Cooper never seems completely comfortable in the role of Latif, and more often than not is unremarkable. Perhaps that is Cooper’s acting, or perhaps it is the writing, but either way it was not interesting enough to get me to care about his story.
In fact, it is difficult to say how I feel about the unfortunate Latif at all. Whilst I have no doubt that he had little choice in joining Uday, his actions thereafter are somewhat difficult to justify. From his lack of action either for or against his “boss”, down to his seduction of the one woman he shouldn’t have, he is not particularly a character to admire, and his one moment of redemption comes at a time when he is completely pushed to the limit, and has more to do with self-preservation than morality.
As for Saddam, a man who will go down in history as a monster for his crimes against humanity, his time on-screen is dealt with in such a way that the viewer is almost challenged to respect and pity him. Whilst I openly admit I am not an expert on the matter, and have no real informed opinion whether Saddam is truly the despot that the news would have us believe, it is still interesting that The Devil’s Double tries to paint him in a slightly more positive light.
Tamahori, probably best known for James Bond’s Die Another Day, has a decent although unremarkable turn behind the camera, dishing up some visually beautiful scenes of the war-torn Iraq, although these are heavily outweighed by a story which is a little dragged out, as Latif is troubled by what to do when confronted with a mad-man whose sanity is questionable form the very first scene.
As for the soundtrack, given the Middle Eastern conflict is one which has continued to bubble even after the Iraq War was won by the US, the choice of music is used to good effect, belting out some classic tunes from the late 1980s to help the viewer keep in mind these are events from over 20 years ago.
In summary this is a perfectly fine film, and does deserve a watch for Cooper’s portrayal of Uday Hussein if nothing else, although I would say that if it is trying to make a point or a moral stand point, it is somewhat buried by a film with a confused identity. At times, The Devil’s Double seems like it doesn’t know whether to be political or creative, and succeeds at neither. In fact, the marketing campaign that included a high-octane trailer and a gold-plated Dominic Cooper, serve up slightly more creativity than the final film.
If the Devil is in the detail, then this film needs a better small print…..
Rating 3 out of 5