A mix of docudrama and high voltage action flick, “The Devil’s Double” received a quick and very limited theatrical distribution in 2011, due to mixed reviews, an absence of stars and, perhaps, the lurid subject matter.
The movie tells the story of Latif Yahia who bore a striking resemblance to Saddam Hussein’s demented playboy son, Uday. The two men were schoolmates as youngsters but had drifted apart for many years when Uday decided he needed a body double to appear at potentially dangerous public events.
Saddam had more than one of these doppelgangers who enjoyed the perks of life inside the many palaces of the ruler, but who risked their lives every time they pretended to be Hussein.
“The Devil’s Double” is set before, during and after the first Gulf War when international pressure began building against the increasingly hostile and aggressive Iraqi leadership.
Director Lee Tamahori admits in the extras on the recently released DVD that he wasn’t interested in telling the story of Latif realistically, but wanted to give the based-on-fact material the pacing and larger-than-life feel of a classic gangster picture.
The House of Saddam wasn’t that far removed from a gangster clan — with everyone enjoying an extravagant lifestyle fueled by their ill-gotten gains. Uday lived life in an especially reckless manner that reminded Tamahori of hot-head Sonny Corleone (James Caan) in “The Godfather.”
“The Devil’s Double” will turn off viewers who think the lurid violence of the DePalma “Scarface” is excessive, but the film is anchored by the extraordinary dual performance of Dominic Cooper as Latif/Uday.
While he is certainly aided by the CGI technology that allows Cooper to appear with himself in the same frame without any seams showing — we’ve come a long way from Patty Duke as twin cousins! — the real coup here is the actor’s two very finely detailed characterizations.
The two men may look alike but Uday (below) is a sexually debauched borderline psychopath and Latif (above) is an anxious prisoner appalled by the things he witnesses in his gilded cage.
“The Devil’s Double” becomes an education in the parallel societies that exist in many of the so-called conservative Middle Eastern cultures with the have-nots practicing their religion in an appropriately austere public way and the haves living it up in private nightclubs stocked with drugs and prostitutes.
There is definitely a modern gangster movie vibe in the vulgarity of the clothing and the behavior we witness in the Saddam compounds — Uday and his friends are like the inner-city kids who took “Scarface” as a style and behavior bible rather than as a cautionary tale.