You get two Dominic Coopers for the price of one in Lee Tamahori’s latest, a fact-based thriller about a man who spent four years being the ‘fiday’ (double) of Saddam Hussein’s deranged son Uday.
That much is corroborated, both by public record and by double Latif Yahia himself, a former schoolmate of Uday’s who would later flee Iraq and has since settled in the West. The Devil’s Double, however, uses it as a mere springboard, morphing Latif’s very real dilemma into a lurid and extremely violent portrait of power’s capacity to corrupt absolutely.
There are links here cinematically with Downfall or The Last King Of Scotland, films that also presented insider looks at dictators’ wacky ways.
Yet Tamahori also references such sprawling crime sagas as Scarface and GoodFellas in his depiction of Uday as a trigger-happy gangster given to killing indiscriminately, raping schoolgirls and snorting cocaine off a gold dagger.
It’s a gift of a role for Cooper: a cackling, psychotic live-wire with the morals of Caligula, the wardrobe of a pimp and the libido of Pepe Le Pew. “Whatever I want I take for myself!” he shrugs, shortly before despoiling a bride on her wedding day.
Yet the Mamma Mia! man is less sure-footed when it comes to Latif, a tabula rasa who – knowing his family will be murdered if he does not comply – is largely required to stand by with ever-mounting disgust.
Writer Michael Thomas attempts to counteract Yahia’s inherent passivity by having him improbably fall for his master’s mistress (Ludivine Sagnier) and, even more improbably, take arms against his heartless oppressors.
This is not sufficient, alas, to make him a presence in a film that’s far more interested in the devil than his doppelgänger.
On the subject of doubles, Malta offers an excellent approximation of Baghdad while the split-screen trickery is often undetectable.
Cooper’s Uday to remember is enough to make Lee Tamahori’s blend of fact and fantasy highly watchable. But it’s more for Tony Montana fans than those after a more balanced account of Saddam’s shame.