11 August 2011

Movie Review: The Devil's Double


C+

The Devil's Double
2011, 120mins, 18
Director: Lee Tamahori
Writer: Michael Thomas
Cast includes: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Dar Salim, Philip Quast
UK Release Date: 10th August 2011

“The Devil’s Double” is a case of great central performance, pity about the director. Charting the relationship between Uday Hussein and his tortured body double, the film seems chiefly interested in sickening acts of violence and sabotage, leaving it up to a fantastic Dominic Cooper (portraying both Uday and his unfortunate clone) to instill the picture with any semblance of depth or emotional complexity. “The Devil’s Double” is an acceptable diversion during the viewing experience, but Lee Tamahori’s insistence on stylized overkill coupled with the thin screenplay leave it open to substantial criticism afterward.

An Iraqi soldier with a noble reputation, Latif (Dominic Cooper) is shocked to find himself drawn into the core of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Latif is a doppelganger for Saddam’s son Uday (also Cooper), the government keen to acquire Latif’s services to enhance the bratty lout’s security. After some minor physical alterations, Latif enters Uday’s fulltime employment, forced to watch as his new master commits vile deeds across the region of Baghdad. Desperate to escape Uday’s repugnant clutches, Latif comes to realize dissent will be met with harsh punishment, his own health and the well being of his family placed firmly on the line.

“The Devil’s Double” isn’t a subtle film nor is it particularly fixated on historical accuracy; instead Tamahori structures it as a standard tale of sex, drugs, gunplay and moral ambiguity. The vision of Uday Hussein presented here is deplorable, Cooper perfectly depicting the man’s dangerous sense of self-importance. A true screen terror, Uday molests the young, murders the innocent and showcases no understanding of mercy, Cooper channeling these evils through manic twitches and hyperactive tirades. His interpretation of Latif is less kinetic, but it contrasts effectively with the wild Uday, Cooper’s Latif communicating both loathing and disbelief expertly. It’s a really tremendous piece of work.

The narrative is loosely grabbed from reality, Tamahori weaving in war footage and references to various monumental global events to keep the timeline readable. “The Devil’s Double” never opts for devoted action beats, instead offering scenes of unsettling brutality, many of which leave a hefty mark. Some of his visuals are ludicrously hackneyed, but Tamahori is never afraid to show the audience harsh truths in a gritty light, special focus being applied to Uday’s haunting treatment of local schoolgirls. It’s not exactly pleasant to behold, but it certainly affords the picture some much needed weight, helping to buoy Cooper’s contribution through sheer shock value.

The plotting is crisp, keeping the first two thirds fairly intriguing, but the product runs out of steam before the end. A feeble romantic angle is angrily shoehorned into the movie, “The Devil’s Double” suggesting that Latif had a relationship with one of Uday’s most cherished girls (played flatly by Ludivine Sagnier); this facet of the feature undone through a lack of chemistry and excessively shallow character development. Cooper does his best, but Sagnier is lifeless, although the actress is inherently crippled from the start thanks to Tamahori’s crude and ridiculously cheesy sexualizing of her character. It’s obvious and at times laughably overwrought, this aspect of the movie perfectly embodied by a hastily edited MTV style bedroom romp halfway through.

The cinematography is polished but unmemorable, Tamahori basking the picture in an unending sea of gold. Cooper’s performance and a handful of other attributes (namely a fluid start and a few striking moments of anguish) keep “The Devil’s Double” bearable, but it rarely achieves anything more than that. It’s a better than average biopic, but even within its genre “The Devil’s Double” is far from a classic.


A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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