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The Devil's Double | reviews, news & interviews

The Devil's Double

The Devil's Double

Dominic Cooper as Uday Hussein and his lookalike

Or are you just pleased to see me? Dominic Cooper and Ludivine Sagnier as Uday Hussein and his squeeze

There are biopics and there are biopics. The process by which an actor is made up to look like the character he has been cast to play gets an intriguing twist in The Devil’s Double. Latif Yahia, who was often confused with Uday Hussein when they were at school, many years later found himself involuntarily drafted as the lookalike of Saddam’s son. And now both men are played by Dominic Cooper, who finds himself in the odd position of being made up to look like he's been made up to look like a lookalike.

The question at the heart of this gruesome tour of recent Iraqi history is whether Latif will behave like his double, too. But this is an aptly named filmed: no one could match Uday’s infernal depravity, not this side of the juicy bits in Suetonius. He prowls about the city of Baghdad like a tooled-up Caligula, causing orgiastic mayhem. He rapes and pillages, abducts, murders and maims. He plucks a bride from her wedding and deflowers her from behind, causing her to throw herself to her death in shame. With a sword he slashes open the bulging belly of his father’s taster till the innards slither out. He tours the souks in search of schoolgirls whose bodies will later be dumped outside the city. Such is his unpredictable insanity that when he orders everyone in a nightclub to strip, every lithe young woman and paunchy old man obeys. No wonder he is the target of potential assassins. Hence the need for a double. (Saddam has a couple of them too. In one of the film’s more wry moments we watch them playing each other at tennis.)

the-devil-s-double10Latif is given the option of turning down the job, but only at the cost of imprisonment for his family in Abu Ghraib. So he goes through the business of reconstructive surgery, prosthetic alteration, above all dental implants, to mimic Uday’s charmless gap-toothed grin. The only likeness he can’t easily match is in the trouser department. “My cock is well known in Baghdad,” Uday boasts, contemplating a surgical reduction for his double.

It’s a big thespian challenge for Dominic Cooper, who naturally dominates the film to the exclusion of almost everyone else. He throws the kitchen sink at Uday, a pantomime villain specialising in monomania and chaos. To put enough distance between the two characters, he gives Latif (pictured right) an almost Zen-like taciturnity. In order to survive the madhouse he must keep his emotions deeply suppressed. “I died the day I came here,” he says and, while undoubtedly true to life, it causes a problem for the drama. The only time he becomes animated is when, preparing to give a speech as Uday to troops before the Kuwait invasion, he trains himself to speak with his double’s demented high pitch.

gallery-img-large-7A lot about this film feels right. The depravity, the relentless acquisition of high-end watches and sports cars, the near naked women sashaying about the presidential palace, the trashy pop forever playing on the soundtrack. And yet something is not quite right. Scene upon scene establishes that Uday has the essential banality of the truly tonto – indeed, he’s so nuts that you even find yourself cheering on that repository of moral sense Saddam (Philip Quast, pictured above left) when he grabs his son by the gonads and squeezes. “I should have had him gelded at birth,” he says. The chance to explain the latent homosexuality of a man who screams “I love cunt!” goes largely unexplored.

So it’s up to Latif to hook the audience with some kind of narrative arc. But for most of the film he is reduced to a slightly tedious watching brief. When finally he slips his chains, it is in the company of Uday’s favourite mistress (sultrily embodied under a variety of wigs by Ludivine Sagnier). It’s at this point that the plot starts to feel disingenuous. They make good their escape on horseback, for goodness’ sake, and despite having no money somehow fetch up staying in a hotel in Malta (where all the film was shot, though Latif actually escaped to Kuwait). By the end, a film which requires its audience to believe the unbelievable has put its faith in cinematic cliché. In ticking the scriptwriting boxes, The Devil’s Double ultimately fails to be a convincing lookalike of real life.

Watch the trailer to The Devil's Double

Cooper throws the kitchen sink at Uday, a pantomime villain specialising in monomania and chaos

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