It's a unique story: an average man is asked to play a body double/decoy for a high-profile political personality. In this case, the personality is Uday Saddam Hussein, the son of the more famous Saddam. Uday is a violent, hateful person whose posh, spoiled lifestyle only adds to his ego and selfishness. Opposite Uday, the man is Latif Yahia, an innocent Iraqi soldier. Latif is both noble and traditional, uninterested in money and power, and even less interested in hurting people. Unfortunately, Uday has connections and pull, and through less-than-honest means, he finds a way to force Latif to take the job.
In Lee Tamahori's The Devil's Double, both men are played by Dominic Cooper, whose believable dual performance is the sole reason to see the film. Cooper effortlessly differentiates the two men through body language and attitude, even shading the performance enough to key the audience in to the moments when he's performing Latif performing Uday, which is even more remarkable. He makes Latif as likable and believable as he makes Uday horrible and repulsive, and both characters are fascinating.
Uday likes women, enough that he frequently cruises around schools, kidnapping underage schoolgirls for his own pleasure. Latif hates the job so much he barely pays attention to anyone other than Uday, but he can't help but notice Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), one of Uday's harem. Quietly, off of Uday's radar, he gets to know more about her, and she reveals herself to be full of the same fears he has: that Uday is both dangerous and insane, and that someday, when Uday no longer requires their services, he will kill them. Sagnier is also quite magnetic, and Tamahori dolls her up in a number of elaborate outfits and colorful wigs, but her character is ultimately a bit of a letdown, lacking in that extra something to differentiate her or her building relationship with Latif from any number of dangerous women in similar movies.
Tamahori makes a good use of a small budget, shooting for a natural look so many modern movies lack, and uses effective compositing techniques to put Cooper in the frame with himself (although one major CG shot is truly atrocious). However, neither the screenplay by Michael Thomas (based on Yahia's book by the same name) or Tamahori's direction provide any serious motivation for Latif to finally take action, other than the basic situation. There are plenty of compelling scenes, such as one where Latif is confronted by a man looking for his missing daughter with Uday watching in a back room; the scene deftly leaps from one character to the other, turning the focus from the angry citizen to Uday and back to Latif without losing the importance of what the man came to say. However, it's clear right from the beginning that Uday is a dangerous man, and Latif has no more reason to leave at the beginning of the film than he does at the end.
Overall, Cooper's performance is enough to justify the film's existence: it makes up at least 70% of The Devil's Double, and all of it is good. Still, it's hard not to wish Tamahori and Thomas made more of an effort to delve deeper into the character of either Latif or Uday rather than plainly recreating the events of their lives; a more incisive and personal version of The Devil's Double might've been a great movie rather than a good one. I suppose they may have been afraid to go any deeper into Uday's head. I can't say I blame them.
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