The Devil's Double Review

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  • The Devil's Double film still

Score

You know you’re in murky moral territory when your movie’s voice of reason is Saddam himself.

As the opening scenes of The Devil’s Double cut from archival news footage to a palpably false-looking Iraqi desert, Lee Tamahori establishes the central premise of his film. This is a hall of mirrors in which we are repeatedly reminded that we can’t trust the evidence of our own eyes.

Based on the true story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier who became a body double for Saddam Hussein’s psychopathic son, Uday, The Devil’s Double is clearly intended to be a kind of knockabout nightmare; a bad trip through the Middle East of the late ’80s and early ’90s as seen through the eyes of a bewildered bystander. What actually occurs on screen is a tone-deaf melodrama of abusive ugliness and poor taste.

Dominic Cooper takes on the task of portraying both Uday and Latif, with only the tyrant’s buck teeth, squeaky voice and slicked-down hair to distinguish them. That, and the visible evidence that he’s been digitally stitched into the frame. Cooper huffs and puffs to portray the manic energy and knife-edge insanity that made Uday so dangerous, but there’s something fundamentally inert about the performance. It’s an experiment that simply doesn’t work.

Partly that’s because Latif’s narrative lacks drama. Yes there are the women, the nightclubs, the escape and retaliation. But compare it to the similar story of Nicholas Garrigan in The Last King of Scotland and a flaw becomes apparent. Garrigan was fooled by Idi Amin – for a brief but crucial moment he believed in the dictator. Latif never sees Uday as anything other than a monster; without that seduction, he has nothing to learn or to lose.

In a broader sense, Tamahori has no interest in whether Uday – rapist, torturer, murderer – was a product of a system that permitted these abuses. Or whether, given the circumstances, there may be an Uday in all of us. Instead, he is a reductive, cartoon villain – a paedophile with an Oedipal fixation. You know you’re in murky moral territory when your movie’s voice of reason is Saddam himself.

Anticipation

Looks like a great story with a bold acting gambit on top.

4

Enjoyment

What is this exactly? What are these horrible compositions? What’s going on?

2

In Retrospect

One of the ugliest films for a long time, visually and otherwise.

1
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View 7 comments

Joe

2 years ago
This film looks so so bad. When will we stop White washing the east? Getting English/American actors to put on stupid accents rather than actually finding actors from the country the film is set in, nearly always terrible results!

Hala

2 years ago
Totally agree with you Joe.. Only arab actors can portray what arabs are really like.
Also, the real Latif Yahia was supposedly going to play the role of Hussain Kamil, who didn't even appear in the film!
The film was set in Amman.. It looks nothing like Baghdad. I realise it may be difficult to shoot scenes in Iraq, however, they should've attempted to make the backdrop look similar!
As an Iraqi, I'm disappointed with this film.. Its too Americanised and has completely missed the point of what it was meant to portray!

shez

2 years ago
i loved the movie..especially domonic cooper.reminds me of al pacino in scarface...the movie is shot in malta...not baghdad...

mattg

2 years ago
Well said Matt, this is by some distance the worst film I've seen all year: amateurish, crass and execruciatingly acted. If you want to make a film about how much fun it is to be mad, bad and wealthy, it's probably best not to place a rapacious real-life murderer and paedophile at its centre. If you want to make a film about a rapacious, real-life murderer and paedophile, it's probably best not to show footage of bombs falling set to disco music.

PS: watch out for TV's Alexander Armstrong in the first battle sequence. Pointless indeed

SJC

2 years ago
not seen this yet - plan to check it out this week but it does seem a shame/mildly shameful that there is not one iraqi/middle eastern actor in one of the lead parts.

Alex

2 years ago
Personally, I loved the film. I think this review raises some valid points, but I thought Dominic Cooper's performance was excellent; I was never in any doubt which character I was watching, despite the fact that it's almost impossible to distinguish them physically. I saw it in a cinema and I didn't pick up on any visual evidence of the two Coopers being 'stitched' into the same scenes, either.

I think Cooper's casting was justified because, having seen the film, I can't imagine anyone else in the role. Not so sure about Ludivine Sagnier, however; there doesn't seem to be any valid reason why Sarrab couldn't have been played by an Arab woman, although in some ways it doesn't matter since the whole 'romantic subplot' is the most unconvincing part of the movie.

Alex

2 years ago
I think it can be argued that the film does attempt to explore the reasons for Uday's behaviour; why else include the scene in which he is visited and threatened by Saddam in hospital following what seems to be a suicide attempt? Ultimately, I felt the 'excesses' of Uday's life - the horribly seedy clubs, the tacky clothes and houses, the young girls snatched off the street - were in themselves an indictment of this regime and culture. The fact that Uday is cartoonish is kind of the point; by all accounts, he behaved a lot like that in real life, which adds to the horror of it all for me.

I didn't find the 'inauthentic' landscapes distracting at all. It's perfectly understandable that they wouldn't have been able to film something like this in or near Iraq. I've been to Malta and I recognised a lot of the locations as clearly being in Malta, but this didn't do anything to affect my enjoyment of the film.
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