The Devil’s Double tells the unbelievable story of Latif Yahia, the proud Iraqi soldier who was forced to serve as Uday Hussein’s (the eldest son of Saddam Hussein) body double. Dominic Cooper, whose past work includes The History Boys and Mamma Mia!, steps up to the challenge of playing both of these characters with an excellent display of his true acting ability – arguably his greatest performance yet. Though both of these characters are practically identical in appearance, their perceptions of morality could not be further apart, and Cooper’s performance(s) portray this beautifully.
The title of ‘Devil’ is not an exaggeration of Uday Hussein’s personality – there is not a single moment in the film where he shows any sign of morality, and audiences will undoubtedly remember this film mainly for the horrendous crimes he commits throughout the course of its story – even more so not just for the fact that these things happened in real life, but because of the fact that the film only touches the surface of the extents this man went to in order to get his own way. To illustrate this, there are three attempts on his life throughout the duration of the film, while in real life there were no less than eleven failed assassination attempts merely within in the brief period Latif was acting as his body double. If you’d excuse my French, this guy was a massive bastard, and Cooper’s portrayal of him is definitely the film’s highlight.
Although Uday is the more memorable character, Latif is who the film revolves around, so it is him that provides the majority of the emotional depth and drama within the story. Unfortunately, the film is so focused on Cooper’s characters that the others barely get a chance to shine. Even Saddam Hussein himself, played by Philip Quast, is reduced to something of a cameo performance. And the film’s heavily fictionalised ending fails to provide closure on a lot of the story’s underlining themes (Uday’s disturbing relationship with his mother is one key example).
It is not just the ending, but the entire final third of the film that seems to lack the flair showcased in the beginning and the middle of the story. It breaks its structure of a man trapped within his enemy’s body into more of a Jason Bourne kind of scenario, which interrupts a formula that was doing the job perfectly.
However, the film is based on Latif Yahia’s real-life book, so the story of political and sociological corruption can be passed as something that can be saved for another film more concerned with the wider picture. For now, we can sit back and be amazed by this incredible individual account of the corruption and disgusting ethics of the Hussein household.
My prediction is that the film’s overly mediocre appeal will undermine Cooper’s brilliant acting skills, meaning that it could well go down as this year’s most underrated performance. For me, it at least deserves a nomination for a Best Actor BAFTA.
The Devil’s Double (2011), directed by Lee Tamahori, is distributed by Icon Film Distribution and Lionsgate, certificate 18.