The Devil’s Double is one of those films that is very very difficult to watch (think The Last King of Scotland), knowing it is based on true, horrible events. Part of you feels like you should be a witness to the horror as a sort of penance, to take your share of humanity’s flogging for letting such men do such horrible things. At the same time, at least in this film, you can’t help but wince, as it inevitably feels like you are watching torture porn. Do I really need to see a graphic disemboweling to know this it is truly horrific?
Dominic Cooper plays Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier that is grabbed by government thugs and brought to the attention of Uday Hussein. See, Latif and Uday were schoolmates, and Uday remembered that they had a striking resemblance. As Uday is the son of the country’s iron-fist leader Saddam (who comes off as, well, at least somewhat sane compared to his son), he is often the target of assassinations, so needs a body double. Latif is asked by Uday to perform this task, and after brutal beatings, Latif realizes he is not allowed to refuse.
The Devil’s Double is the profile of a madman, through the eyes of a man trying to keep his soul in the devil’s lair. With only a small bit of prosthetic makeup (mainly slightly protruding teeth to show Uday’s overbite), Dominic Cooper effectively plays both men so that they are instantly distinguishable. It is especially fascinating to watch him play Latif playing Uday. You always sense Latif’s barely-veiled panic, as though he will be discovered as an imposter despite his perfect mimicry and almost-perfect look.
Cooper is surrounded by an able cast, with the odd exception of French actress Ludivine Sagnier, who is miscast as Uday’s number-one kept-woman (and Latif’s ill-advised love interest). Her character Sarrab is Lebanese, but I couldn’t help but think she looked like Christina Aguilera dropped into a harem and given an accent.
The problem with The Devil’s Double is that it is unclear what sort of message the movie is conveying. It bothers very little with any big-picture scope of the world of the 1980’s politics of the era. And it doesn’t take repeated horrific scenarios of Uday pulling schoolgirls off the street, or brides from the altar in order to rape and discard them to show that he was an inhuman beast (sometimes I felt like I was watching scenes from Caligula). And, after the fact, I found out that much of the story (despite Latif being a real person) was fictionalized. This made me question the point of dramatizing such brutality for the sake of… what? entertainment?
Let’s just say, reading about Uday Hussein’s real-life atrocities is perhaps enough for me. I will note, however, that after seeing The Devil’s Double, I will never fail to shudder in horror at the mention of The Iraqi Olympic Committee ever again.