The Devil's Double


31 Sunday 31st July 2011

If you fancy a film featuring sex, drugs, violence and the fall of Saddam Hussein then The Devil’s Double may be for you. Set in Baghdad 1987, the film is about the insane tale of Latif Yahia (played by Dominic Cooper), the Iraqi lieutenant who was chosen to become the stand-in for Saddam Hussein’s eldest son Uday (also played by Cooper). Forced to comply for the safety of his family, Latif does what he’s told and becomes embroiled in Uday’s sadistic world of excess, debauchery and just plain old lunacy.  

Taken from Latif Yahia’s autobiographical novel, The Devil’s Double is based on true events, but of course this being an action thriller it’s amped things up a bit. Overall the film involves Latif assuming Uday’s identity so much so that Uday sees his 'creation' as another part of himself. Latif must attend public appearances, give speeches to Iraqi soldiers and avoid several assassination attacks, while at the same time deal with Uday’s corrupt and dangerous lifestyle that threatens to destroy everyone. Latif must decide whether he continues to endure this terrifying existence or to break free and deal with the equally perilous consequences.  

Depth in regards to Iraqi politics and the global situation at the time is sparse. The pressures Saddam’s regime is beginning to face and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (arising from accusations that Kuwait was stealing petroleum) are mentioned. And the film is interspersed with genuine newsreel-like clips of the first Gulf War and George Bush Snr. chiding Hussein, so it does try to remind us that this is supposed to be happening in the real world. Nevertheless these touches do little more than act as framing devices for the plot. However director, Lee Tamahori has stated the film should be seen as a gangster film as opposed to one that sets out to have any real political impact. And a gangster film is exactly what we’re given. But still it’s a slight variation on the genre as no one, including the law, can take Uday down. He has free reign over everything, so this danger and chaos surrounding it makes it more interesting than usual as you’re forced to wonder how he could be stopped.

Dominic Cooper as Uday Hussein and Latif Yahia

The best thing about this film is probably Dominic Cooper’s performance as both Latif and Uday. It’s clear that these are two different characters with slightly differing physical appearances as well as vocal register, mannerisms and personality. His ability to simultaneously evoke laughter and fear is remarkable.

While it may have been cheesy to have such diametrically opposed roles, with the villain so evil it was at times comical, and the protagonist entirely unwilling to give into the temptation of luxury and pleasure; reading about the real Latif Yahia gives the impression that this portrayal is an accurate one. He despises Iraq and the situation he was forced into, and it seems he continually resisted the controlling nature of the regime, so to say that this battle between good vs. evil is inaccurate isn’t that fair.

Uday really is insane

What’s nice is that I expected Latif to do the age old 'temporarily clouded judgement plot', turning bad like Uday, then have an epiphany and turn good again. But Latif generally stays himself throughout, so there’s a distinct contrast throughout the film reminding us of the insanity of Uday. Latif is a clone but he cannot assume Uday’s identity enough to quash his own, which really just lets us know that he’s human.

Snazzy gun though

Set in the 80s the film is steeped in Western decadence, with a gold sheen over most of the people and many of the initial scenes. The music and fashion also help bolster the sense of a decadent, excessive lifestyle that seems so appealing but of course comes with a price. The numerous club scenes demonstrate the repetitiveness of Uday’s lux lifestyle, but do also become a bit monotonous for the viewer, although we are treated to a naked party at one point for Uday’s birthday.

Latif getting punished by Uday

Death and violence cloud the film, with bodies being dumped in desolate places or piled up in the back of trucks. Uday satisfies his penchant for underage, virginal girls several times, but Tamahori's fest of sex and violence of stops short of depicting these rapes.

Aside from his duties to Uday, there is also a love interest for Latif - Sarrab (played by Ludivine Sagnier) is forbidden fruit due to her position as one of Uday’s girls. Unfortunately the relationship isn't particularly convincing, with Sarrab being a tad cheesy.

Latif and love interest, Sarrab

There are some funny moments, and it’s this humour that sometimes takes the edge off what could be an overload of uncomfortable/violent scenes, including an odd tennis scene, in which Saddam Hussein is playing his double in a friendly match.

In terms of pacing, it’s done fairly well though at times I did wonder what was going to happen, and not in an ‘omg this is so gripping’ but rather ‘where could this go now that we’ve seen how crazy Uday is’. So the ending of the film is probably predictable in that it’s the only way I could think of to resolve Latif’s situation.

Latif reaching his limit

In short, you could see this film as a justification for overturning the Saddam regime, or even propaganda in favour of George W Bush. But to be honest, I really think the politics are secondary here.

While most of us knew that unlimited power is never a good thing already, sometimes it’s nice to have a visual demonstration of this. So if you want to see a body swap film that’s bigger than The Parent Trap and has more in common with Scarface then you might enjoy The Devil’s Double

The Devil's Double (18) is out in cinemas 12 August, for the film's official website click here. And if you want to know more about the real Latif Yahia you can visit his official website here.

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