Based on an (allegedly) true story, Lee Tamahori's "The Devils Double" is a slick and stylish production, featuring an well crafted dual performance by Dominic Cooper, portraying both Uday: the sociopathic, hedonistic son of Saddam Hussein, and as Latif Yahia: the Iraqi soldier forced to become his body double. The film, however, feels like something of a missed opportunity, and that the end result, whist an entertaining film, is somewhat less than the sum of its parts and feels like merely a good film, rather than the potentially great one it could have been.
Cooper's performance as Uday and his titular double is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. As Uday, Cooper allows himself to practically devour the scenery, portraying the dictator's son as a nightmarish cross between Caligula and Tony Montana, raping and murdering with selfish aplomb. Cooper clearly has fun as the monstrous Uday, although according to various sources, the real Uday was far more vicious then Cooper's portrayal. This reflects more on the film's style and direction then Cooper himself, as I felt with a more realistic, grittier take on the material; Cooper's performance could have been as iconic as Pacino's. His second role as Latif: increasingly horrified and disgusted with Uday's excesses, is considerably more understated and at times, can feel a little underdeveloped, compared to Uday's flamboyancy. Ultimately, Latif feels more like a stock character, a mob underling in over his head with a psychotic kingpin, rather than the films emotional core.
The cast is rounded out by Ludivine Sagnier as Sarrab, Uday's concubine and later Latif's lover, Raad Rawi as Munem, Uday's stoic and long suffering security chief, Mem Ferda as Kamel Hannah, a "twittering little pimp" who insults Uday and pays dearly for it and musical theatre veteran, Philip Quast, as Saddam Hussein, Iraq's dictator and Uday's disapproving father.Out of the supporting cast, Rawi and Quast, are the standouts, with Rawi's body guard, imbued with quiet dignity and subtle authority, clearly fed up with having to look after his psychotic charge and yet unable to do anything about it. One scene, has Latif and Munem discussing Uday's utter insanity, the subtle look on Rawi's face as Latif tells him that "He's a good man in a bad job" sells his characters frustration without saying anything. Quast's Saddam, despite his brief appearances, radiates authority and his scenes, opposite his arrant son, are filled with a deep sense of tension. Sagnier is, however, the weakest link in the supporting cast, playing a typical femme fatale role as Uday's kept woman. Sagnier gives a rather wooden, dispassionate performance and her chemistry with Cooper is lacking.
The films slickness and stylish look both help and hinder the films tone. The visual look of the film is slick and glossy, giving it a gaudy, sensationalised appearance. In a way, this helps the film's narrative, given that the majority of the films scene's happen in the luxurious palaces, homes and nightclubs frequented by Uday and his entourage, places considerably different from where the average Iraqi lived, highlighting the extravagant, hedonistic lives that the ruling family lived. On the downside, the gloss makes the film feel like a generic gangster movie which isn't helped by the other genre trappings (The violent sociopath, the femme fatales, the reluctant henchman) the film displays throughout. I think with a grittier, more realistic take on the story (Perhaps similar to Tamahori's 1994 breakout "Once Were Warriors, depicting violence in the Maori community), the film could have been better, but with the films style clashing slightly with the story, the result is the film feeling rather disjointed.
Overall, I would say "The Devils Double", whist far from a great movie, is not by default a bad movie either. Cooper's performance as Uday is enjoyable to watch, in the same way Pacino is "enjoyable" in "Scarface, or Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas". The films garnish visual tone, however cheapens the film into feeling like a generic thriller. Ultimately,it is a disappointment that what could have been a gritty, brutal take on one of the vilest and cruellest figures of Saddam's Iraq, is watered down into an entertaining, albeit somewhat forgettable, gangster film.