It’s well known that Saddam’s overprivileged, unbridled son Uday committed psychopathic grotesqueries for kicks. And The Devil’s Double, the film about him and his body double where Dominic Cooper plays both roles, queues up rapes, murders, and torture sessions with zest. The bigger surprise here is that Cooper — who’s done little until this point but play the dark-haired hunk in films like Mamma Mia! and An Education — delivers such a profoundly weird, electric performance.
Cooper doesn’t just play Uday as a cruel egotist, his caricature captures Uday as a gangly freak show, pitched somewhere between Batman villain, Jim Carrey’s Cable Guy, and Macaulay Culkin’s Party Monster, with hunched shoulders, a chipmunk smile, and a toxic, gassy laugh. Cooper also plays the decent man Hussein forces to be his body double, Latif Yahia, whose autobiographical novel is the basis for the film. Latif is imprisoned and beaten. If he doesn’t impersonate him, they’ll throw his entire family into Abu Ghraib, so he goes along and gets plastic surgery that makes him virtually identical to Uday (except for his larger penis). Cooper duels with himself onscreen and his performances are so different that what could be just a gimmick works. However, Latif’s wrestling match with his conscience and flirtation with one of Uday’s girls (Ludivine Sagnier) is far more predictable than Hussein’s fickle malevolence. Unsurprisingly, the psychopathic party-boy sadist with a taste for little girls and silk shirts steals the show.
Director Lee Tamahori has never been more than slick and commercial. Films like XXX: State of the Union or Next (in which Nicolas Cage played a Vegas magician who could predict the future) didn’t exactly reveal some hitherto unexplored aspect of the human heart in conflict with itself. In The Devil’s Double, he stages some spectacular eviscerations, baroque party scenes, a few truly disturbing executions, and some child-molesting kidnappings that are as cleanly shot and hyperbolically trashy as anything on an episode of CSI: Miami. But in the end, Tamahori just can’t resist a Hollywood ending that turns Latif into some sort of rebel avenger, spoiling any of the film’s claim on reality and making it clear that this film is little more than a glitzy, horror-movie showcase for Cooper’s dueling performances. But Cooper puts on one hell of a show, and at two-for-the-price-of-one, it’s a steal.
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