The Devil's Double

  • Posted 88 months Ago

Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier
Director: Lee Tamahori

Summary: Iraq, 1987. A soldier, Latif, is summoned to the House of Saddam Hussain where he is informed his old life is over: he will henceforth serve as body double to Saddam’s depraved son, Uday…

You get the sense Dominic Cooper (the British actor previously known for roles in films such as Mamma Mia! and An Education) took on The Devil’s Double with the idea that it might be the making of a career. After all, there can be few better showcases than the opportunity to play two lead parts, as he does here: both Uday Hussain, the deplorable, psychopathic son of Saddam, and his newly recruited body double, Latif. The actor's lot is usually that the best performances go unnoticed, blending into character so successfully that the craft behind them is forgotten. But here there's no such danger – with Cooper often occupying the same shot twice, the audience is only too aware of his particular transformation skills.

After a curiously stagnant first scene in which the task of working out which Cooper is which rather distracts from anything either of them might be saying, the distinction is successfully pulled off. Whereas Uday is utterly off the leash, diabolical and deranged; Latif - tasked with imitating him - is altogether more brooding, still and serious. There’s certainly potential here: the figure of the malignant double - der Doppelgänger - is rich with literary history, with recent screen explorations including Aronofsky's Black Swan. But the trouble with The Devil’s Double is that neither character shifts from his original position. Uday’s wickedness is unrelenting throughout whilst Latif retains an unblotted copybook. With this dynamic there's nowhere much for the drama to go, since instead of truly 'doubling' each other the pair remain poles apart - in fact, the only thing that links them is their looks.

French actress Ludivine Sagnier, with similarly few shades of grey to work with, briefly threatens Latif's virtuosity in her role as Uday's favoured concubine Sarrab. She is described in the press notes as a 'hot prostitute' - which gives you a flavour of the struggle for tone that's at play here, between the serious reflection that bubbles underneath (and that the subject seems to demand) and the much less complicated, brasher, popcorn fare that's actually presented.

Cooper's Uday is so irredeemable, so debased, as to be almost a comically, cartoonish, Disney-esque villain, which jars with the gruesome acts of violence we see him carry out. Similarly, the predominant aesthetic - colourful, glossy, and revelling in lavish costume - sits uncomfortably alongside the grainy stock war footage which occasionally pops up to administer a sober slap of reality. The film's final image, a title card stating "The rest is history…", is surely too flippant, too Hollywood, given its apparent reference to one of the most feared dictatorships and two of the most damaging military conflicts in a generation. One is left with the sense of an odd piece of cinema, uncomfortable in its own skin – or perhaps just a bad idea in the first place.