Theatrical Review: The Devil’s Double

The Devil’s Double is loosely based on the true story of Latif Yahia.  Latif Yahia was an Iraqi army lieutenant hand-picked to be the “fiday” (body double) for one of Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday.  If Latif refuses, his family would be condemned to death.  Ultimately, Latif agrees and basically gives up his own life to exactingly learning how to be Uday.  Uday tells Latif that what belongs to him (Uday) is now his (Latif’s), though Latif is appalled at Uday’s decadent lifestyle.  Latif has no idea of who he can trust within Uday’s circle.

The Devil’s Double has been described as a “Mid-East Scarface” and while that description isn’t far off the mark, there’s certainly a lot more to it than just being what some would see as another gangster film.  Thanks to extremely skillful direction from veteran director Lee Tamahori and absolutely brilliant performances from Dominic Cooper, this hits on another couple of levels.  Not only do you have what can be seen as this Mid-Eastern gangster lifestyle, but Latif does everything he can to still keep his own sense of morality strong.  At the same time, this gets more complex with Uday who essentially falls in love with Latif, not in any sort of homosexual way, but more because he’s built Latif into an extension of himself.

Director Lee Tamahouri first got great notice with his first feature, Once Were Warriors which tells the story of a family descended from Maori warriors struggling to keep itself together while dealing with an abusive father and societal problems.  It’s a terrific film, and Tamahori deserved every bit of praise that he got for it.  Since then, he got involved with bigger Hollywood films with varying degrees of success.  Some of those movies include Mullholland Falls, The Edge, and the James Bond film, Die Another Day. I wasn’t that great a fan of his last movie, the Nicholas Cage thriller Next from 2007, but for the most part, I’ve enjoyed his work.

I first saw the trailer for The Devil’s Double earlier in the year when I saw 13 Assassins and was just mesmerized by it.  I’ve been eagerly anticipating this one and so when it came here to St. Louis, I couldn’t wait to see the movie.  I’m happy to say that The Devil’s Double didn’t disappoint me in the slightest and I’d certainly put it right up there with 13 Assassins as one of the best films I’ve seen this year so far.

From what I understand, Latif’s duty as Uday’s double lasted for about a 4-year period, so the events of this film are presented in a pretty condensed way.  I’d tend to think that the overall intent is pretty accurate to how things played out, but considering the things that Latif had to do, we may not know for sure just how complicit he was in some of the atrocities that Uday was responsible for.  I’d certainly expect that liberties were taken (and one is very obvious by the fact that this is all presented in English) and regardless, it certainly felt to me like I got an accurate portrayal of the big picture.

Tamahori doesn’t politicize this either.  While it’s set during the Gulf War, that scene is set primarily using news footage and it’s not the central focus of the film.  That focus is more on dictatorship in general and it’s effects.  I didn’t feel like I was being sold propaganda about America’s involvement in Mid-Eastern affairs at all, but more getting a picture from an Iraqi’s point of view of being on the inside.

Technically speaking, Tamahori’s film is absolutely beautiful.  Dominic Cooper plays both roles of Latif and Uday and the effects used for when both are on-screen at the same time are pretty seamless.

Dominic Cooper is just tremendous in this film.  Prior to this, he was seen in movies like Mamma Mia and An Education neither of which I’ve seen.  Currently though most of the audience will be familiar with Cooper thanks to the part that he played in Captain America: The First Avenger which was the part of Howard Stark, the father of Tony Stark who of course is Iron Man.  Even though it’s a smaller part, I thought Cooper was terrific in Captain America and so I was a little stunned to hear that it was the same guy in the lead for The Devil’s Double. As I said above, Cooper plays both roles of Latif and Uday and one could also see him doing extra duty of playing a performance within a performance when he has to play Latif playing Uday.  It’s not just a simple matter of him turning off one character and going right into the other- you can still see parts of Latif while he is standing in for Uday.  Uday is almost cartoonish in contrast to Latif, but even though I say that, I don’t mean it in any sort of derogatory way.  Uday’s the son of a despot and gets anything he wants any time he wants, and so I’d expect him to be quite a bit over-the-top.  Latif is stoic and does his best to keep his composure as he bears witness to the shocking experiences he goes through.  While at first this may not seem to get the most emotional depth out of the character, it does build, and by the film’s end the real emotion is there when Latif makes his break.  If may not be the same thing that we’d necessarily feel in our own culture, but it certainly felt authentic to what was presented here.  This is an Oscar-worthy performance and I can only hope that Cooper gets recognized for it when the time comes.

The Devil’s Double is a pretty powerful movie that works on a couple of levels.  It can be seen as a gangster film, most certainly, but works even more as a complex character study of two characters, both with completely different views on life.  It is an extremely violent movie and it’s certainly graphic about it, though again, I believe it’s just scratching the surface of the total horrors Latif actually faced.  Still, what’s seen here is probably enough to put off squeamish viewers, so that should certainly be kept in mind if you’re considering seeing this.  Regardless of that, for myself, The Devil’s Double is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.  Highly, highly recommended.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

04. September 2011 by Darren Goodhart
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