Director: Lee Tamahori
There can be no doubt that Uday Hussein, the son of Saddam Hussein, was a horrible human being. He possessed an apparently insatiable appetite for violence, sex and wealth. Does this story actually bear telling onscreen? If so, how to approach it? With The Devil’s Double, there is the opportunity to explore two major characters as Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper), a soldier in the Iraqi army, is drafted in to be a double for Uday (Cooper again) due to his remarkable resemblance. Given the potential intrigue and historical context (the film is set just before and during the first Gulf War), this is a prime opportunity for some awards fodder. Instead, director Lee Tamahori wants to shoot an Arabian Scarface. Prepare for a bumpy ride through the desert.
The cruelty and excesses of Uday, his father and his brother Qusay (Jamie Harding) are well-documented. Our first glimpses of Uday see him swanning around a golden palace and driving a Ferrari. Latif is coerced into taking the doubling job, but there is never any indication that he’s tempted by this lifestyle, or that Uday in any way regrets or is conflicted by his actions. Here lies the main problem with Michael Thomas’ script (adapted from Yahia’s memoir): the characters, despite being based on real people, are one-dimensional. Repeatedly, we get scenes of Uday being horrid, while Latif looks on gobsmacked. Whether kidnapping teenage girls for his pleasure, or slicing enemies up on a whim, Uday is simply insane, with nothing defining him bar cocaine-fuelled rage. By comparison, Latif looks weak, paralysed by inaction as Uday threatens to harm his family should Latif be insubordinate. Nuance and introspection are luxuries in this screenplay; it’s anger and tension all the way. It’s a good thing that Cooper is playing both roles, as portraying such different men allows him to show off his range. However, given the one-dimensionality of these men, it feels like one great performance stretched across two characters. Any other characters are stock fillers, hence the unnecessary romance between Latif and Uday’s lady of choice Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier).
Tamahori (Die Another Day) does little to dispel the lack of depth in the script. His colourful direction means that everything is thrown at the screen, blood, blow and bling alike. The Devil’s Double is in your face, offering no respite from its heady pace. For Cooper, this could have been a breakout performance like Tom Hardy’s in Bronson. Unlike that film, however, The Devil’s Double doesn’t seem to care about its characters. Like Uday, it’s purely interested in immediate reactions and stimulation, with little depth and even less subtlety.