“The Devil’s Double,” Director Lee Tamahori’s bloody yet enlightening drama, is about Latif, an Iraqi soldier who is forced to be the body double of President Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday. It is unknown why exactly it is necessary for Uday to have a double, although perhaps it is partially to enable him to continue his hard-partying ways. Latif yearns to help his country, yet he possess a strong moral compass and is unwilling to participate in this dangerous venture, until his family is threatened. Uday is much more than merely a womanizer, and his lavish designer duds and showy cars make it easier for him to essentially do whatever he wants. Latif develops feelings for Uday’s mistress, Sarrab (French actress Ludivine Sagnier), who reciprocates.
The movie was filmed in various parts of Malta, which seems to be a thoroughly appropriate location that contrasts stunning desert landscapes with the bustling streets of Baghdad. A plethora of real footage is utilized throughout the film. Hordes of dead bodies and other gruesome images are rampant in the remainder of the movie as well, but the actuality of these images is more powerful in reminding us of the harsh realities that have existed in the Middle East. Evidently, writer Michael Thomas, who adapted the script from Latif’s autobiographical novel, found it simpler to have all characters speak English. The primary audience of the film may be English-speaking, but I find movies that are situated in foreign countries to be extraordinarily less affective in creating authenticity when English is the language of communication.
Dominic Cooper shines in his first leading role, scene-stealing in movies such as “An Education.” He portrays Uday and Latif in two distinctly different ways, though this is aided by the make-up team’s excellent ability to physically differentiate the two. Uday is serially untrustworthy. Cooper gives him a creepy, seemingly perpetual smile and an annoyingly high-pitched voice. We laugh at his ridiculously insane antics and his sexual jokes. Yet, if this yields any likability, it is immediately thwarted by our intense hatred of him for his exploitation of women and his love of violence. He coerces schoolgirls off the streets into his bed, and rapes and beats them so brutally that they either die in the process or want to die. He is a druggie and an alcoholic, who Sarrab says acts like a child, in that he “tires of” things (and of people) easily. He appears to indeed be the devil incarnate—the title is highly appropriate—and kills without remorse. He admits that he loves himself more than anything or anyone.
Latif, on the other hand, is so vastly dissimilar that it is obvious he does not belong in the company of such a vile human being. However, Cooper may have spent too much effort on distinguishing the two, because when his sullen, often emotionless Latif is contrasted with his over-the-top Uday, it is nearly impossible to spot even the smallest of differences. Latif mostly regards Uday with a mixture of shock and surprise, which is a reaction that eventually ceases to have an effect on the audience and becomes rather tiresome to watch.
Despite the engaging story lines and commendable acting, “The Devil’s Double” suffers from a few minor inconsistencies. Christian Henson, who wrote the original score, cannot seem to determine what type of music is appropriate: we hear rock music, techno music, and, not surprisingly, music that is less mainstream and fits the Middle Eastern city of Baghdad quite nicely. Additionally, a camera technique is employed numerous times: slow-motion cinematography. While it is effective in certain scenes, especially in the penultimate action sequence at the very end, it is exceedingly unnecessary when exhibiting Sarrab’s lustful glances towards Latif. As Sarrab, Sagnier is is overtly sexual and although she seems to be an acceptable lover for the saddened Latif, she has little personality and we have no reason to care about her.
Tamahori and Thomas purposefully utilized bloody violence and grotesque images not for shock value—though there is no question that it is shocking—but to display the realities of life in Iraq in the late 1980’s. Thomas has admitted that much of Latif’s autobiography could not be implemented in the script, because it exceeded the bounds of what would be impossible to showcase in a film. I am not entirely sure what the principal point of the movie is, though “The Devil’s Double” hooks you in a way that cannot be eloquently described, with its brilliant tension-inducing moments that are not meant for the weak-stomached.
Lee Tamahori (director) / Michael Thomas (screenplay) Latif Yahia (novel)
CAST: Dominic Cooper … Latif Yahia / Uday Hussein
Ludivine Sagnier … Sarrab
Raad Rawi … Munem
Mem Ferda … Kamel Hannah
Dar Salim … Azzam Al-Tikriti
Khalid Laith … Yassem Al-Helou
Pano Masti … Said Kammuneh
Nasser Memarzia … Latif’s Father
Philip Quast … Saddam Hussein