Devil’s Double, The: Directed by Lee Tamahori. Starring Dominic Cooper


Aiming to be a dazzling, provocative and timely thriller, Lee Tamahori’s “The Devil’s Double” falls short of its goals due to a weak, narrowly defined scenario (based on Latif Yahia’s 2010 book), which lacks depth and complexity.

Nonetheless, in a dual role, the handsome British actor Dominic Cooper gives such a dominant and electrifying performance that he single-handedly elevates the drama—up to a point.

Cooper plays Latif Yahia, a lieutenant in the Iraq army who is summoned from the battlefield to the palace of Saddam Hussein with a peculiar mission to accomplish. Latif is asked (no, commanded) to become the body double (“fiday”) of Saddam Hussein’s older, mad son (also played by Cooper).  Suddenly, Latif is thrust into the upper echelons of the royal family and country’s political elite.

The two men could not have been different in origins and personality, but it’s the physical resemblance that matters.  In contrast to Latif, who is ordinary and humble family man, whose main goal is just to survive, Saddam’s son, Uday, labeled by the international media as the “black prince,” is a reckless, sadistic, fun-loving party-boy, whose life is motivated by sex, pleasure and brutality.

The first (and best) reel of the saga chronicles how Latif, aware that his very own and his family’s lives are at stake, must surrender (ideally even obliterate) his former identity completely and absorb all the gestures, movements, speech patterns, and mannerism of Uday. To that extent, he’s instructed how to walk, talk and act like Uday. Soon, he realizes that nothing could have prepared him for the horrors of the psychotic, drug-addled life of fast cars, easy women and impulsive violence, which define the existence of the “black prince.”

Unfortunately, the second half of the drama loses the energy and momentum of the preceding chapters and becomes just more documentation of the above.  Though, the film offers hints along the way, it never bothers to explain why Uday needs a double in the first place.  In short, “The Devil’s Double” fails to provide deeper psychological or political insights into a subject matter that, on paper, is nothing short of provocative and scary.

As noted, Dominic Cooper, mostly known until now for playing reliably supporting roles (as in “Mamma Mia!” “An Education,” and currently as the inventor Howard Stark in “Captain America: The First Avenger”), renders a breakthrough, riveting performance that almost justifies the price of admission.  Easily the strongest asset of the otherwise flawed picture, Cooper interprets Uday as both a psychopath and sociopath, driven by primal and irrational instincts that are manifest in erratic, crazy behavior, like targeting schoolgirls off the streets.

Director Tamahori seems fascinated by the excesses of the central character, and in moments it feels as if he is trying to outdo Brian De Palma’s version of “Scarface” and its Tony Montana gangster.

Running time: 108 Minutes