The Devil’s Double – 1 Bucket
Dominic Cooper is even better than you’ve heard (if that’s possible) in the dual lead roles of The Devil’s Double, playing war criminal Uday Hussein (Sadaam’s son) and Latif Yahia, the real-life Uday-lookalike who endured several cosmetic procedures to become his indistinguishable body-double. As was the case in 2004’s Adaptation and last year’s The Social Network, other recent films in which one actor played multiple people in the same scenes, the device here transcends being a gimmick and legitimately services the narrative. That’s all thanks to Cooper, who seamlessly shifts between polar opposites, playing both a manic, cold-blooded killer and sexual miscreant and the man who he effectively takes as his hostage. After the first reel, during which it’s only natural to marvel over the impressive nature of Cooper’s work, the viewer never thinks of Uday and Latif as the same person, which is the greatest compliment one could pay the actor. Cooper has done fine jobs in supporting roles in good films like An Education and The Duchess over the past decade, but it’s hard to imagine him not becoming a go-to lead after these two commanding performances.
Unfortunately, my praise for the film not just begins with Cooper, it ends with him. On a tonal level, The Devil’s Double is a wreck — at the best, a mess, and at the worst, patently offensive. Director Lee Tamahori, who has made a career for himself doing campy action flicks like Die Another Day and xXx: State of the Union, was simply the wrong fit for the material, which is grave and disturbing because it is a true story (set during the first Iraq War). Tamahori conducts The Devil’s Double like it’s business as usual for him, making the movie in the style of a pulp entertainment. It’s visually flashy, filled with adrenaline-pumping score, and exceedingly willing to engage Hussein’s documented manias for their shock-value. While this directorial approach has an essential place in Hollywood make-believe, it comes across as perverse when interspersed with horrific scenes that we assume to be factual, as the movie credits itself as an adaptation of Yahia’s nonfiction account of the events and features plenty of archival footage to set the mood. In a film in which a heinous war criminal is seen graphically exploiting a 14-year-old girl and slaying a military official (organs spill from his abdomen as if it were a Tarantino picture), trying to entertain the audience should not be a priority. But for Tamhori, it seemingly is, and the result is disturbing in all the wrong ways. For every advance that Cooper makes in trying to depict the sheer madness of his subject, especially by juxtaposing him against his captive double, Tamahori takes a step back by trivializing him through over-stylized presentation. As the credits rolled, I wanted to call for a do-over so Cooper’s brilliant work wouldn’t be wasted on such a misguided film.
* * *
The Devil’s Double (2011, Belgium). Produced by Niels Bourgonje, Paul Breuls, Joyce van Diepen, Michael John Fedun, Veronique Huyghebaert, Alexandra Lodewijkx, Atilla Meijs, Emjay Rechsteiner, Guy Tannahill, Arjen Terpstra, Harris Tulchin, and Catherine Vandeleene. Directed by Lee Tamahori. Written for the screen by Michael Thomas, based on the book by Latif Yahia. Starring Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Mem Ferda, Dar Salim, Khalid Laith, Pano Masti, Nasser Memarzia, and Philip Quast. Distributed by Lionsgate. Rated R, with a running time of 108 minutes.