On thousands of bedroom walls is the poster of one film of 1980’s excess and hyper violence, and if I don’t mind saying so one of the most over-rated films of all time. That film is Brian Da Palma‘s Scarface. The reason that I am mentioning this is because a film has been released that has been described as Scarface of Arabia, that film is better known as Lee Tamahori‘s The Devil’s Double. The true story of Uday Hussains (the son of Saddam) “fiday” or body double – Latif. All of this is happening while the first gulf war was happening in neighbouring Kuwait, so to put a time frame on this film it is set around 1990. The context may be based heavily in reality, the approach, however, is very different as this is one of those true story based films which presents a much more spectacular account of events, even the director has openly admitted this. It makes no concessions to be a realistic beyond the interspersed news footage, this approach gives the film the freedom to be a spectacle and not a document of Uday Hussain.
It might have been compared to Scarface; however a more realistic point of comparison for the devil’s double would be the last king of Scotland. Even that is a hard comparison to make as the last king of Scotland presented Idi Amin as an affable man with the frightening potential to be a psychopath, there is no moment in the devil’s double where Uday is anything less than insane. This is where my issues start with the film, what I mean to say is that there is very little development or conflict within the story. Additionally the plot is very sparse with only the opening and closing 15 minutes coming anywhere near resembling story.
The way which the film flows is nothing more than repetitive. At the start of the film it is established that Uday has chosen Latif to be his double, to be the devil’s double. It is also established early on that there is no conceivable way that Latif can have any freedom with bowing to Uday’s demands, therefore the only way Latif can have his freedom is to extinguish his personality. That is an interesting idea that would have some legs if it was developed further, but it’s not. Instead after those opening minutes we are treated to what feels like a never-ending barrage of set pieces that express just how much of a disgusting individual Uday Hussain is. This is true to such an extent that Saddam Hussain, one of the greatest war criminals of modern times is a moral center of the film.
The film might be called the devils double however it is most definitely about the devil. Like I said most of the film is spent detailing the monster that is Uday, whether that means he is dabbling in hyper violence or pulling children and woman from the street only to dump their dead, sexually abused husks when he is finished with them. Needless to say if you are squeamish or easily offended this is a film to avoid.
Despite all this the real reasons that this film has gathered any positive attention is because of Dominic Cooper performance as both Latif and Uday. The only way they are differentiated between is through their different fringe and teeth. What annoys me about this is a line in the script where someone says that Latif is the best Uday’s staff could find. The best, it’s the same actor. They could have used some make-up to make a distinction between Uday and Latif. I know a different hair parting is good enough for Superman, but still, come on.
Dominic Cooper portrayal of Uday is glorious, the stuff that awards are won by. He lives and breathes the evil that the role demands with a performance that I never knew he was capable of. He captures both the childlike innocence and the monster with equal care and attention, by doing both so well whenever Cooper is on-screen there is always the feeling that anything could happen. This snarling menace was unsettling in the way that only the best horror films are. Latif, on the other hand leaves a lot to be desired as he doesn’t affect his voice hence at times it seems as if the son of Saddam Hussain’s fiday is a posh English school boy. Besides Cooper the only other cast name that people will know of is Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool) who has very little to do besides look beautiful in next to no clothes.
Besides for fans of Cooper who will be put off by some of the more graphic scenes, I can’t see who will enjoy the devil’s double. It’s a historically inaccurate film about a historical figure which is all about the horrors said figure inflicted. It’s neither one thing nor the other. This all brings me back to Scarface, although the films are different they both revel in the excess, style and music of the 1980s, so to fans of that Da Palma cult film this is one film that will enjoy pride of place in your DVD collection.