Based on real events around the turn of 1990, in an Iraq still controlled by Saddam Hussein, The Devil’s Double retells a remarkable period of time in the life of Latif Yahia (Cooper). Forcibly recruited to become a body double for Uday Hussein (again, Cooper), playboy son of president Saddam, Latif quickly grows tired of the heir apparent’s sadistic and uncontrollable behaviour, and after falling Uday’s girlfriend (Ludivine Sagnier), with his family’s blessing even though it might put them at risk, debates fleeing away, and starting life afresh away from troubled homeland Iraq.
With such compelling source material at the heart of The Devil’s Double, you’d have thought it was an open goal for this film to be a success, but it’s so conflicted in deciding what it want to be, the resulting tonal mish-mash brings about the film’s swift downfall. Caught between a gritty political thriller (the core story, characters and setting, grainy archive footage) and a silly, almost slapstick screwball comedy about excess (‘wacky’ Uday, a glam ’80s electro soundtrack); The Devil’s Double feels like the result of the producers of The Business and Football Factory had turned their hand to Body Of Lies. It’s not a mix that works well.
Uday is a monster, we get that, but the film doesn’t ever to explore your perception of him. Though The Devil’s Double is played out through the eyes of the good-natured Latif, much more screen time is given to Uday’s outbursts, undermining the more serious and involving elements around him, and specifically, what impact those action are having on staff, the public and his nation as a whole.
Some of Uday’s sadistic tendencies follow their way into Lee Tamahori’s direction too, in the form of entirely unnecessary and needlessly explicit violence. They’re treated them with a ‘torture porn’ idealism, only glorifying the Uday character.
Doubled up in both central roles Dominic Cooper was OK but matching similarities to The Business, it was a ‘Danny Dyer’ performance, and the cockney could have easily slotted into his place; never a good thing, The Football Factory, for example, was good in spite of Dyer, not because of him.
The Devil’s Double has moments of vague amusement bu t on the whole is an entirely superficial and trashy experience that wastes such a great story and could have been so much more had the filmmakers gone down a more serious direction.