Dominic Cooper as both Uday Hussein and his body double in “The Devil’e Double”
The Devil’s Double (2011)
Directed by Lee Tamahori
Written by Michael Thomas
Starring Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Jamie Hardy, Philip Quast, Mimoun Oaissa
Run Time : 108 minutes
MPAA Rating : Rated R
What would you do if you were forced to do a job and if you didn’t do it you’d be killed? That’s the question Latif Yahia, who’s chosen to be the body double—fiday—for Sadaam Hussein’s wacko oldest Uday, has to grapple with in this film, or as Uday’s doppelganger puts it to him – “You’re asking me to extinguish myself?” Of course he doesn’t want to, who would? But his decision to play the part he’s been assigned and his attempts to get free of it—Dominic Cooper takes on both roles—is the motor that drives Lee Tamahori’s stunning and highly theatrical new film loosely based on the real events and Lahia’s memoir as novel inexorably forward.
I say theatrical because Tamahori frames much of the action—the screen ratio is 2.35: 1—especially the opening scenes where Latif is brought into Hussein’s honey hued Baghdad palace, from a kind of proscenium view so we can see how place and character interact, but it isn’t static stagebound like Mankiewicz’s “Cleopatra” (1963), but viscerally alive, and totally seductive as is Dominic Cooper. And of course Shakespeare was right. All the world is a stage, and what a stage here. It’s 1987 when Saddam is at the height of his power, and like Herod the Great, whose behavior Josephus chronicled so vividly in The Jewish War, smells betrayal everywhere he turns, as does Saddam’s first-born son. And what a charming villain Uday is, offering his double anything he wants, with offhand shrugs and manic giggles like an insidiously handsome but not quite all there Mephistopheles, though Latif’s hardly his Faust because, in this film version of Yahia’s bestselling memoir in the guise of a novel, because he may not want power over anything or anyone, and yet there’s still this sense of an irrevocable deal with the devil.
Tamahori and company – Michael Harris’ succinct script tells us what we need to know but keeps the story moving – play on our attraction and revulsion throughout. Yet who wouldn’t want a life of ease without boundaries if you could get away with it? And who wouldn’t like to have all that money can buy “Versace. Armani . Rollex”—and a veritable fleet of cars painted to match your suit du jour? But then Latif has to witness or be party to Uday’s incredible brutality—like deflowering a raven-haired beauty on her wedding day, who throws herself off a bridge because of the shame—and way off the charts mood swings.
But Tamahori and Harris don’t stop there. A kind of crazy love – ambiguous because we don’t if it’s just narcissism or real need – seems to develop between Uday and his “other half,” or as Uday giggles “We’re two peas in a pod.” “I will never let you go, I will never let you go,” Uday says embracing him, in despair almost, which says that he may need to be needed no matter what, and that’s perhaps the rub. “there’s the rub.” And it’s this moral ambiguity that gives the picture a psychological kick it wouldn’thave had in lesser hands.
Cooper’s dual performance deserves all the praise he’s been getting. Sly, catlike, a real diamond in the rough—despite his life of privilege—as Uday. Observant, conflicted, cautious, as Latif. And Cooper finds lots of shadings in both, though we’re off course more fascinated by Uday’s over the top antics— will he get away with it this time ?
Tamahori surrounds the pair with a superb international cast. The Australian Philip Quast nails his few scenes as Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi actor Raad Rawi, as Munem, is elegant in his grey suits, and a bit weary of the palace game he’s been playing. The Bahraini Khalid Laith, as Yassem, on the other hand, looks perfectly at ease in his role in the palace where he tells Latif the rules and chooses his wardrobe.
Jamie Hardy, with his Italian suits, piled up black hair and tiny moustache, is the spitting image of Uday’s favored, and reserved brother Qusay, and the Iranian actor Nasser Memarzia is thoughtful and touching as Latif’s beleaguered wealthy businessman father. The French actress Ludivine Sagnier, who’s been unfairly dissed, is perfectly fine as Uday’s mistress, and then Latif’s lover, who somehow manages to keep her head every day, like Scheherazade.
Ace costume designer Anna Sheppard, who made Uday’s suits and silk shirts from scratch, art director Carlo Dlalli, production designer Paul Kirby, and cinematographer Sam McCurdy, who shot in Jordan and Malta, make the House of Saddam feel intensely real.
Oscar Wilde once quipped that “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” And you get both here in Cooper’s fully actualized performances as Latif and Uday, in a picture that’s been compared a lot to de Palma’s 1983 “Scarface”—that’s obvious—though its evocation of a decadent yet entirely seductive world is really much closer to that in Visconti’s 1969 “The Damned”, which centers equally on the price of corrosive power.
This is easily one of the most fascinating, well written, and well-performed English language films I’ve seen in years. You may not like it, but you certainly won’t forget it.