The Devil’s Double
Directed by Lee Tamahori
Screenplay by Michael Thomas
Dominic Cooper as Latif Yahia / Uday Hussein
Ludivine Sagnier as Sarrab
Raad Rawi as Munem
Mem Ferda as Kamel Hannah
Dar Salim as Azzam Al-Tikriti
How long is The Devil’s Double? 108 minutes.
What is The Devil’s Double rated? R for strong brutal bloody violence and torture, sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and pervasive language.
It’s Good To Be The Prince: ‘The Devil’s Double’ Focuses On The Wrong Twin
Admittedly, I don’t know anything about Latif Yahia, the real world subject of The Devil’s Double. After watching the movie, I was not particularly interested in learning more about him.
Set around the time of the First Gulf War, The Devil’s Double tells of Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper), an Iraqi drafted to be the body double for Uday Hussein (Cooper in a double role), the psychopathic son of Saddam Hussein (Philip Quast). At first Latif, a former classmate of Uday, says no, but Uday threatens him and his family, and Latif understands that he has no choice but to go along with the scheme. Some minor plastic surgery later and they are virtually twins.
The movie follows the same formula endlessly. Uday acts manic and does something crazy (e.g., he attempts to have sex with a very young schoolgirl, he guts someone, he shoots guns randomly), then he asks Latif to participate in the zaniness. Latif refuses and tells him that he’ll leave the job. Uday threatens his family, and Latif agrees to remain on board as his body double, but never does any of the dirty stuff.
There are some plot garnishes, such as Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), one of Uday’s girls whom Latif pines for; a pointless betrayal that allows Cooper to give the The Godfather, Part II “I knew it was you” speech; one suicide attempt; and a maybe suicide attempt that’s never fully explained. These are as dry as the desert where the film takes place and seem to bear little importance to the bulk of the film.
The film’s characters are, unfortunately, hollow. Uday’s a megalomaniac who may or may not have a strong Oedipal complex. He kills, he tortures, he does drugs, he parties, he screams, and that’s pretty much the extent of his character. We understand that he’s a hedonistic evil prick from early on, but the film just hammers this point over and over, without provided any real insights into him or crescendoing the acts of vileness. Nevertheless, Cooper brings a good energy to his performance, and Uday seems like a character worth following, rather than someone we watch through the eyes of another. Especially when that someone else is Latif.
Latif is very, very dull. For as much energy as Uday has, Latif has none. For as obviously evil as Uday is, Latif is as obviously good. The film goes above and beyond to show just how decent a human being Latif is and how little he participates in the insanity around him. He constantly refuses to participate in any of Uday’s games, never does anything particularly “bad,” and never seems to give into the excess that surrounds him. More than that, he never seems tempted by any of the material possessions that he has at his beck and call. He barely seems to struggle with initial feelings of “I know what I am doing is bad, but I really like this suit.” We aren’t even treated to his original wide-eyed amazement at the life of luxury he just entered. From the start, he seems disgusted with the opulence and, throughout the entire film, he seems bored and annoyed.
As for his job, the work of a double feels glossed over. We get a couple of scenes — one where Latif (as Uday) gives a speech to Iraqi troops about to invade Kuwait, one where he gets attacked in an ambush meant for Uday — but considering that this is why Latif was requisitioned, it seemed like there should have been a greater focus placed on his actual responsibilities.
Additionally, the filmmakers treat Uday’s guards with surprising kindness. Several scenes make it clear that many of these protectors realize how bad the prince is, but they are stuck in the same situation as Latif. They are even willing to cover up for the double, probably at the expense of their own lives. Saddam exists mostly as a stern father, and his other brother, Qusay, seems like a dutiful nerd.
Like Latif, director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, xXx: State of the Union) never seems to fully indulge the excess. Uday is a prince who has everything and can get away with anything. He rapes, he murders, he beats people, he has the best clothes, the best cars, the best liquor, a torture staff on call, and an endless supply of cocaine, yet there is an energy missing to the film that would be amenable to such a lifestyle. Obviously The Devil’s Double wasn’t meant to be some high octane action movie, but the relatively sluggish and certainly repetitive pace does not suit the tale. Every time things seem like they might pick up (i.e. when Uday does his wild and crazy guy routine), we return to Latif being pissed about his job and moping around his bedroom. It’s like a car that starts for 30 seconds and then dies.
The Devil’s Double is a redundant film that does not give us a deep enough look into Uday or Latif, nor does it allow us to live vicariously through Uday’s incredible life. Some “based on true events” movies force you to ask, “I guess it’s an interesting story, but does it really need to be told?” The Devil’s Double is one of them.