The Devil's Double

Although the DVD box says “Part Scarface, Part Goodfellas,” the truth is that The Devil’s Double is neither of these movies. Those are classic mobster flicks with interesting plots and engaging characters. The Devil’s Double is one great performance in the service of a pretty crappy movie. Dominic Cooper may get some Best Actor awards talk for his dual role in The Devil’s Double when the 2011 awards season kicks off. He deserves it, too. Playing both Uday Hussein, the psychotic son of a dictator, and Uday’s real-life body double, Latif Yahia, Cooper is magnetic. While the characters could not be more different and regularly occupy the same space, Cooper gives two independent performances that are each brilliant in their own way.

Unfortunately, his performance is largely wasted by director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, among other bad movies) and writer Michael Thomas. Working from the probably somewhat-true story of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s oldest son Uday, a real nut-job/sex maniac/sociopath with nearly unlimited power and control, and his old classmate/unwilling body double, Latif, Tamahori and Thomas can’t seem to come up with an interesting story. Borrowing liberally from Scarface, they show the sex, drugs, and murder of the Hussein clan, but more as a series of events rather than a compelling story or psychological profile.

It’s a damn shame, too, because Cooper turns in a star-making performance. As Uday he’s crazy, fearsome, and also pathetic. He inhabits the tacky (but expensive) clothing and trappings of wealth and power while remaining friendless and a disappointment to his father. As Latif, Cooper is more contained, reserved, and sympathetic, but enjoys some of the trappings of wealth and power he gains. In either case, he delivers every key line and is basically acting in the movie with himself. The only other person with a substantive part, Ludivine Sangier playing Uday’s gal pal Sarrab, who pines for Latif, mostly shimmers and squirms and licks her lips rather than playing a foil worthy of Cooper’s performance.

According to one of the featurettes, Tamahori tried to turn the Husseins into the Baghdad Corleones. While there is certainly despicable and vomit-worthy behavior, it mostly just serves to sicken and shock, not to propel the story. The ending feels ridiculous and tacked on, as though they said, “Okay, Latif is the good guy, what can he do since he had nothing to do with Uday’s death in 2003?” So what is probably pure fantasy is included to make us feel like the whole movie was worthwhile.

Even with Dominic Cooper’s performance, it’s hard to recommend this film that goes nowhere and does nothing but leaves you glad you didn’t live in Iraq before the first Gulf War. Since you are probably already glad about that, it doesn’t accomplish much. Look for Cooper in better films (like An Education) and leave this one on the shelf. The DVD for The Devil’s Double has enough in terms of extras to keep a fan of the movie interested. First off, there is a fairly scary but interesting front cover of Cooper as Uday, painted gold and holding two machine guns while seated on a throne. It sets the tone for the whole movie.

Although I can’t say much about the movie itself, and much of that falls on director Lee Tamahori, he does provide a good commentary. It has enough inside tidbits and things you might not notice to make a repeated viewing worthwhile. The low budget of the film is a regular topic both in the commentary and in other extras. It really doesn’t look like a low-budget film, but I guess that is the point.

“True Crime Family” attempts to compare the Husseins (at least as portrayed in this movie) to the great crime families of the cinema. Well, really just the Corleone family, which is a stretch. It does make the point of the movie a little more clear, as they were trying to make Scarface rather than do anything actually about Iraq before the first Gulf War. Uday Hussein’s name could have been Jerry Bumlish and the movie could have worked the same way. After the first couple minutes of the featurette, they drop the crime-family thing and just give general behind-the-scenes information and interviews.

The mechanics of the double role played by Dominic Cooper are covered in an extra called “Double Down.” I have to give them credit, it does look like Cooper is playing both parts at the same time. Obviously, the technology is about a zillion times better than multiple-role movies of yesteryear, but it looks perfect. Either inserting him via green screen or superimposing his head on a double, you really can’t tell, and it’s cool to see how it was done.

Finally, there is a truly boring interview with the real Latif Yahia. He seems like a nice guy, and the story is interesting, but he just sits and tells it in a monotone voice without much interaction with the interviewer or other visuals. Some pictures or video from the day to spice it up would have helped.

The Devil's Double is not a great movie but it does feature a great performance and it’s presented with a decent set of extras. In other words, if you decide you love Dominic Cooper so much that you can’t bear to miss this, you’ll get some value, but you’re better off just skipping the whole thing.