The Devil's Double Review: Hussein in the Membrane, Hussein in the Brain
Bad guys are always so much cooler than good. Even Bruce Willis at his badasserousest had to face against the likes of Alan Rickman. In Paradise Lost, the most entertaining and interesting character is Lucifer. And such is the case with Lee Tamahori's The Devil's Double, a biopic based on the life of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier forced to live as the double of Uday Hussein. The depiction of Uday Hussein as this demonic imp, this gaptoothed wild monkey who snorts coke from knifepoint, steals schoolgirls off the streets of Baghdad to rape them, and parties to the Rhino Records Razor and Tie "Greaties of the Latey Eighties" soundtrack, is nothing short of mesmerizing. The film becomes this unholy amalgam of The Parent Trap and Scarface. It truly is a mob movie, with the big baddy daddy Saddam loping about like a porn-stachioed Tony Soprano while his unruly son cavorts like a gleeful maniac in his palace. If it were nothing but a film about Uday Hussein's antics, it would be a fucking revelation. As it stands, it gets mired down in the dreadful depiction of Latif Yahia as this stalwart noble warrior forced to stand witness to Uday and his machinations. Latif Yahia comes off like Lancelot on Miracle Whip, and every scene with his scowling and frowning seeks to do nothing more than belabor the shameful crap quality of Michael Thomas's screenplay. Which you would think would have come from the Macbook of a freshly squat USC grad and not a veteran who penned Ladyhawke and The Hunger. Instead of a focusing on the monster and making a horror story, they focus on the dreary morality of Latif Yahia and hand in a script worthy of "Threat Level Midnight." But what do you expect from Tamahori, known for directing xXx: State of the Union and Next? I just count myself blessed nobody skysurfed over a blazing oil fire.
As the film opens, during the first Bush era of White House Domination, Iraq is bullchinashopping the Middle East. First the Iran squabble, and now they are seeking to take back Kuwait. Saddam Hussein is in full power, dictatoring and like, and he's set up his two sons in palaces where they live with reckless abandon. Latif Yahia, a schoolmate of Uday's who somewhat resembled him, is pulled from military service and forced into the den of the young Turk, where he's told he will play a double. The Hussein's had long been using doubles for Saddam, as was depicted in the historical docudrama "Arrested Development." His family properly threatened and the soldier properly Abu Gharibbed, Latif has no choice but to undergo facial reconstructive surgery in order to resemble the mustachioed lothario.
Dominic Cooper plays both Latif and Uday, and it's a remarkable performance. I lauded Edward Norton for his doobious dual performance in last year's Leaves of Grass, but it feels at times as if Cooper is actually two separate actors. Added to this is the added degree of difficulty, because while people know Edward Norton is a talented actor, rarely do we concern ourselves with Cooper. It's not that he does a bad job in the normal day to day, it's just that he's never really done much to distinguish himself -- at least to my knowledge. (Feel free to belabor this, Brits and Britophiles, for I know dear Dom has done much in the way of cinema.) I've always thought he looked and performed like a Bebe's Kids sketch of Robert Pattinson. His Latif is brooding and his eyes carry such anger and heat, aside from his firmly set shoulders and constant annoyed scowl, you can always tell when you watching Latif and when you are watching Uday. Yet Cooper as Uday is the awe-inspiring performance. He's a living firework, a live-action "Grand Theft Auto" character, strutting around with a gap-tooth grin, a cigar, and waving around a gold-plated AK-47. He's cartoonish, ridiculous, charismatic, and a horrible horrible person. You are amused by his slimy capering, and then his violent turns. He really does recall Tony Montana, only smeared with hummus and a while not unibrow maybe communicollegebrow. He's a clown prince of evil, and Cooper's manic Uday is pretty much the only reason I would recommend watching this film.
Unfortunately, the film is less about being Uday Hussein, and more about the noble put-upon. Latif Yahia is a fucking Boy Scout, and it's tiresome. Of course he doesn't want to portray such a scumbag as Uday. Of course he will nobly put himself forward to protect innocents. Of course he's just doing this to keep his family safe. This is bad enough. But Thomas feels the need to tack some sort of awful love story -- rescuing the damsel in distress in Uday's mistress Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier). I love Sagnier, because she's Bijou Phillips reliable in basically getting graphically naked in almost every film. I swear she has a rider in her contract that someone has to ride her in every film. But she's so terrible in this film, she could've been replaced by a cardboard cutout. She has all the depth of a Robert Plant video vixen and she spends most of the movie wearing terrible wigs and awkwardly making sexy faces. It's an embarrassing character, and an even worse performance. Sagnier is so sexual that even hearing the words "Swimming Pool" gives me a semi-erection (which is awkward between Memorial and Labor Days), but she's like watching a Toddlers and Tiara subject suddenly 3 Going on 30-ed. The rest of the script isn't much better, as it's obviously geared not to examine Uday Hussein but to make Latif Yahia look like a grand and honorable honored hero forced to endure him. And thus, we're forced to endure Latif.
The Devil's Double breaks out weirdly graphic acts of sudden violence and nudity like it was edited by a STARZ exec. "We need more tits! Cut open that guy's stomach and show intestines! C'mon, people, that gun's not going to cock itself. This needs at least 15% more wang." Unlike some of the other films I've seen as of late, Dominic Cooper's Uday Hussein is literally worth the price of admission. Cooper gives a bravura performance in an otherwise dull and overlong film. There's so much potential in writing about living the life of a scoundrel. And the Husseins are those rare characters that really can't sue for defamation of character. When the world cheers your demise, literary licenses be damned. I'd rather watch the villain plot and scheme than deal with the dumb hero being all noble and shit. I believe it was Mother Teresa who once said, "We don't need another hero. We don't need to know the way home. All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome." As astonishing as Latif Yahia's sacrifice was, the more interesting character is the devil he doubles. Hopefully, enough people can overlook the weakness in the script to properly appreciate the hellcat two-part performance of Dominic Cooper. It's a gold-plated career maker.