Published Aug 04, 2011Like a violent version of The Prince and the Pauper, Lee Tamahori's The Devil's Double examines the strange, decadent world of the eldest son of Saddam Hussein, Uday Hussein, and the odd set of circumstances that led him to recruit an old school friend named Latif Yahia as his body double. Latif is cosmetically altered to look like Hussein the younger and charged with the task of deflecting dirty jobs and assassination attempts ― essentially becoming a member of the Hussein family for the rest of his life.
The Devil's Double is a brisk, bloody film detailing the seamy side of a cloistered world that few Westerners ever witness. In a brilliant lead performance, Dominic Cooper owns the double role of Uday and Latif, often simply reacting to his performances. As the doppelganger, Latif is thrust from a sensible life of military service into the delirious bacchanal of Uday's insane life of oil-rich privilege. Cooper plays Latif with reserve and Uday with wild-eyed abandon. While there is an over-the-top quality to the performance, Cooper sells it well, thoroughly transforming himself into the transfixing two faces of the Saddam regime. This will undoubtedly be his deserved breakthrough role.
Journeyman director Tamahori has been responsible for a lot of pulpy eye-candy since his striking 1994 debut, Once Were Warriors, and The Devil's Double finally is a return to more personal material. Double takes a page from recent anti-hero crime films like A Prophet and Mesrine, examining the dualism of the nature of crime, but it's also a gritty action film, indebted to stuff like DePalma's Scarface. Tamahori has always been fascinated by the sociopathic nature of the violent male id, and that is vividly on display. In one delirious scene, the coke-fuelled Uday guts one of his father's closest confidants in an Oedipal rage in front of hundreds of party guests.
As the Gulf War escalates, Latif, the "good man in a bad job," finds his insane world too much to bear and attempts self-exile. At this point the film starts to gear down, until it ramps back up again for its bullet-riddled conclusion. Most impressively, The Devil's Double manages to balance psychological drama with Hollywood thrills, milking both for a steely-eyed, diesel breathing, wild ride. (Maple)