This seems to be the summer of the British discovery, and by that I mean all the British actors I’ve praised for years are finally getting mass recognition on our shores. It started with Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class, and now its Mamma Mia star Dominic Cooper. Sure Cooper’s done some fantastic and well-regarded films but his newest movie, the true life story The Devil’s Double, lives and dies by his portrayal of one of the worst men in history. Fortunately, he makes you fear and love him, playing dual roles in a movie that pulls no punches despite its rather ridiculous nature.
The Devil’s Double tells the true story of Latif Yahia (Cooper), an Iraqi soldier forced to be the “fiday” or body double of Uday Hussein (Cooper again), the son of Saddam Hussein. Uday lives in a world of debauchery and depravity that Latif cannot escape from, forcing him to decide how far he’ll go to escape.
I didn’t know anything about Uday Hussein, only that he was Saddam’s son and a sick bastard, but director Lee Tamahori crafts a film that brings you into his inner sanctum. Essentially the audience becomes witness to Uday’s depravity just as much as Latif is. You witness Uday get whatever he wants, including snatching schoolgirls off the street to rape and murder. The film doesn’t attempt to make excuses or a political statement, only that the events happened. The film does show how all this went on in the midst of the Gulf War and the invasion of Kuwait, but Tamahori and crew never make any political statement about our current war, which would be easy to do if this was a political film. Even the appearances by Saddam Hussein (Phillip Quast) have no political agenda, but show Saddam as a father completely disgusted and disappointed by his heir apparent. Telling Uday at one point “I should have gelded you at birth.” When it’s boiled down, Uday is a spoiled child craving Daddy’s attention.
The Devil’s Double has been compared to Scarface and it wouldn’t surprise me if that film was used as inspiration. When Latif first walks into Uday’s compound there’s a golden sheen to everything, highlighting the decadence that is on display while people struggle and are dying outside in the war. Latif is a good man “forced into a bad job,” who has fought for his country without complaint, but can’t be the double for a man he despises. Uday on the other hand sees Latif as his brother, telling Latif everything he owns they share. There’s a real need for connection throughout this movie and you feel for Uday at times, sickening as it is, because he yearns for male companionship. He’s so lonely at times he calls Latif because he can’t sleep, again a petulant child craving attention.
None of this would come through if not for the phenomenal, dual performances by Dominic Cooper. Cooper is thrust into the role of Satan and his companion and excels at both. The makeup department makes slight differences to show that Uday and Latif don’t look exactly alike, but the differences are heightened by how Cooper portrays both men. When he’s playing Uday he exudes confidence, uses a lot of arm movement, and can rock a set of big fake teeth like it’s nobody’s business. When he’s Latif he’s quiet, introspective, and enters a room with confidence but a confidence that says “I might die but I’m not going to be afraid.” When the two personalities come together it’s a powder keg, seen beautifully when Latif tells Uday to kill him because he doesn’t have the guts.
Director Tamahori does turn the film into an action film towards the end, making it seem more explosive when it doesn’t need to be. When Latif escapes with Uday’s girlfriend Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier) they go to a barn with horses where Latif asks with a smirk “Do you ride?” I know Tamahori made a James Bond film but the line sounds laughable and the moment needs to be tense, not making you compare Cooper to Daniel Craig. The character of Sarrab is a femme fatale that never feels complete. Sagnier herself seems wooden and odd, relying on her good looks to convey emotions.
Regardless, The Devil’s Double is a shocking film about a horrific man that not many people know truly. Cooper’s performance is Oscar worthy and exhausting. Run out to a theater and see this now! The Devil’s Double is slowly expanding to theaters so hopefully it’ll be in a theater near you soon!
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.