Dominic Cooper gives a frenzied double performance in The Devil's Double, effortlessly embracing the madness of Uday Hussein, son of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and the humanity of the man forced to become the arrogant royal's body double. Director Lee Tamahori's thriller races through a land of excess reserved for a very few wealthy Iraqis as it tails Saddam's unloved son through a maze of consumption and violence. The Devil's Double is quick, flashy and shallow, much like its villain, and Cooper's electrifying performance is the highlight of the show.
The movie is based on a novel by Latif Yahia, who was plucked from the army and forced to double former grade-school classmate Uday Hussein. As Uday, Cooper is loud and crass, with imperfect teeth and daddy issues. As Latif, the British actor is thoughtful and reserved while digesting his predicament. Scenes featuring Uday and Latif are impressive, and their interactions are absolutely believable. At times I forgot Cooper was playing both men, and the in-camera and visual-effects trickery on display here is top-notch.
What Uday lacked in political power he found in drugs, women, cars and expensive clothes. Uday is sort of a one-note character in The Devil's Double, but the film is not short on examples of his gross behavior. Uday shoots up a dinner party and murders one of his father's loyalists, and his sexual depravity peaks in frequent, non-consensual encounters with schoolgirls. Uday calls Latif his brother, a title Latif only accepts to keep his family from harm. Latif is frequently confronted with his master's ugly misogynism, and Latif enjoys solace only in rare moments when he can slyly lampoon the playboy.
Saddam Hussein, played by Philip Quast in the film, disapproved of Uday's outlandish behavior and briefly imprisoned him for murder. The Iraqi president preferred to work with younger son Qusay, and the divide between the men weighs heavily on Uday in the film. The Devil's Double doesn't give Uday a lot of redeeming qualities, but he is seen warmly interacting with his mother. French actress Ludivine Sagnier plays Sarrab, who is the closest thing Uday has to a steady girl, and she becomes dangerously close to Latif.
The Devil's Double might have been a slightly stronger film had it dug deeper into the life of Latif. Instead, the film operates on Uday's schedule, and everyone else comes along for the ride. There is no redemption for Uday, who is borderline insane. Tamahori (Die Another Day) keeps the intensity up, and the film is beautifully shot. The director has said that The Devil's Double is a work of fiction, but its basis in reality is frightening. The film's breakneck pace and glossing-over of supporting characters is appropriate, as this rhythm mirrors Uday's life. Cooper is the star here, and his effortless transformations from Uday to Latif deserve recognition. The Devil's Double is a unique, entertaining look at Saddam Hussein's inner circle that is anchored by Cooper's terrific dual performance.
Lionsgate's 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is slick, deep and amazingly detailed. Sharpness is generally exceptional, and each shot is richly textured. Every pore is visible on Uday's face during several intense close-ups, and the Iraqi desert stretches for miles in wide shots. Colors lean toward golden to mirror Uday's obsessions, and saturation is perfect. Contrast is similarly excellent, though highlights are purposely blown out in some scenes. Blacks are deep and inky, and crush is never a problem. When shadows shroud the characters in an interrogation, the effect is intentional. I noticed only a moment of minor aliasing, and there are no problems with edge enhancement, digital noise reduction or compression artifacts.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is an impressive offering for this moderately budgeted film. Dialogue is crystal clear, and the track features plenty of directional dialogue from around the sound field. Things get really loud during more active sequences, and gunfire, pounding club music and the horrors of a torture chamber envelop the viewer. Balance and range are excellent, and the surround speakers are frequently active. The LFE is also impressive, and the score is deep and rich. English SDH, English and Spanish subtitles are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
The Blu-ray is housed inside an eco-case, and an attractive slipcover replicates the gilded cover artwork. The extra features are interesting, and provide background on the events in the film. True Crime Family (16:10/HD) recounts the reign of Saddam Hussein and sons Uday and Qusay. The piece is limited by its short running time, but it provides a nice overview of Saddam's time as president of Iraq. Double Down with Dominic Cooper (8:46/HD) shows how the actor was able to play Latif and Uday. The filmmakers used a variety of tricks, including CGI, stand-ins and advanced cameras. The Real Devil's Double (7:44/HD) is an interview with the real Latif Yahia. The former solider describes meeting an arrogant young Uday in grade school before being forced to serve as his body double. Latif, who now lives in Ireland, says his life is still threatened by men loyal to the old guard in Iraq.
A slick, uncompromising look at the life of Uday Hussein through the eyes of the man forced to be his body double, The Devil's Double provides unique prospective on life in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The film leaves some interesting plot points unturned while focusing almost exclusively on Uday, but its quick pace and brutal violence complement its frenetic villain. Dominic Cooper plays both Uday and body double Latif, and his work here deserves recognition at awards time. Lionsgate's Blu-ray features excellent picture and sound and some interesting extras. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.