Review: ‘The Devil’s Double’

The Projector

1. What a dream role Dominic Cooper won for himself in "The Devil's Double." Honestly, I don't understand why any young actor in the world wouldn't murder his family to grab this part; it's such a perfect opportunity for an actor that I'm surprised "Entourage" hasn't used it in a plotline yet. (Maybe they have, I dunno; I don't watch that dumbarse show.) Cooper is allowed to hit every note: Because he's playing a man and his double, he gets to play the crazed Scarface-esque psychotic lunatic and the heroic leading man who just wants to protect his family. The movie itself isn't particularly good, but who cares? Cooper has the role of a lifetime. The rest of the movie is someone else's problem.

2. Director Lee Tamahori tells the highly fictionalized story -- if the real-life story were this good, presumably someone higher up the Hollywood food chain would have directed it by now -- of Latif Yahia, a loyal Iraqi soldier who isn't loyal to Saddam Hussein but just wants to live his life in peace. (The film makes great pains to make Yahia as apolitical and opinionless as possible; any actual characteristics would muddy the narrative waters and make this a far more complicated film that it has any interest in being.) One day, he is summoned one of Saddam's castles, where he discovers that Uday Hussein, Saddam's oldest son, believes the two men look alike enough that Latif must serve as his body double to avoid assassinations and, as it turns out, public appearances Uday doesn't feel like making. Latif doesn't want to -- this man just wants his family! -- but Uday throws him in jail and tells him he'll kill his parents and his sisters. Latif, finally, realizes he has no choice, which is a good thing, because otherwise there would be no movie.

3. So Latif dutifully -- but honorably! -- does his duty for Usay and Saddam, but unfortunately, the movie doesn't do interesting with Latif. It might have been something if Latif begins to be corrupted by his proximity to the Husseins, if he begins to enjoy the luxurious (if evil evil evil) life the ruling class enjoys. The movie looks like it's going to head this way, to have Latif tempted, but "The Devil's Double" needs Latif to be too perfect, lest we wonder for a moment whom we should cheer for. Latif ends up having a relationship with one of Uday's mistresses (played unconvincingly by French actress Ludivine Sagnier), but mistress isn't an actual temptress, but instead another person under Uday's thumb, trying to escape. It never makes sense why Latif would be interested in the woman, and their connection is a plot device that doesn't go anywhere. Mostly, it just gives the pair an excuse to have a big sex scene, and for us to get another sense of just how monstrous Uday is.

4. And boy, is he ever monstrous. Uday was a true gargoyle in real life, and the movie doesn't miss an opportunity to show us just about every demonic act he committed. He slices a man's stomach open at a party, ravages an innocent woman on her wedding day, tortures members of the soccer team he supposedly manages and, most horrifically, steals schoolgirls from off the street and takes them to his palace to ravage them. Cooper dials up the insanity for Uday, snorting cocaine, swilling tequila, randomly shooting guns at whoever crosses his path and always, always screaming. Cooper flashes, briefly, the insecurity and fear behind Uday, but the movie keeps encouraging him to tamp that down and go crazy. Uday is a true villain, but he's not a particularly compelling one: He is just the embodiment of Satan, at every opportunity, and that's it. The only nod the movie makes to the potential source of Uday's barbarism is a scene in which he is lying in bed with his mom, which doesn't work and is beside the point anyway. Cooper's awfully entertaining as Uday -- far more than he is as Latif -- but it's a lot of null bluster.

5. I'll avoid spoilers here, but let's just say that the conclusion of the film gives Latif a victory and satisfaction that evaded him in his real life. It's a crock of an ending -- one that does a disservice, by the way, to some real-life heroes -- and is not all that far removed from Quentin Tarantino having his Basterds blow away Hitler. (Which, we can all agree, was awesome.) It's also completely untrue to what we've led to believe is the character of Latif, or, for that matter, the men who work for Uday. But it is a Kick Arse Movie Moment, and thus the main problem with "The Devil's Double:" It's trying so hard to be the real-life Scarface, to pile set pieces together to impress the cast of "Entourage," that none of it resonates far past, "sure does look like Dominic Cooper's having fun." He surely is. He should be. It's a great part. But for an actor, not for his audience.

Grade: C