Based on an autobiographical novel by Latif Yahia, an army lieutenant who was forced to become a body double for Saddam Hussein’s notoriously decadent son Uday, “The Devil’s Double” strives to be an absorbing and suspenseful adventure. Despite numerous pluses — Lee Tamahori’s vigorous direction, handsome cinematography, outstanding production design, an impressive dual performance by Dominic Cooper as Uday and Latif — the film is more wearying than entertaining.
That’s because as a character, Uday is not intriguing, and Michael Thomas’ script places the emphasis on him when Latif has by far the more interesting story, much of it not covered in the film. Uday is obviously deranged right from the start, overwhelmed by his father and coddled by his mother, and he’s the same all the time.
Whatever he wants he wants it now, and he gets it. His power over others is absolute; he can get away with murder, he confiscates any woman he wants, whether she be a glamorous beauty or a 14-year-old schoolgirl he simply has abducted off the street for his pleasure.
He is a giggly, self-indulgent child with no complexity, an extreme example of absolute power corrupting absolutely, and his nonstop cruelty and epic self-indulgence in brutal sex and violence becomes a turnoff. Looming in the background is the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War. The filmmakers may be aiming higher, but “The Devil’s Double” plays like a lurid exploitation picture — and brings to mind, not in a good way, the Al Pacino “Scarface” and the notorious “Caligula” with Malcolm MacDowell in the title role.
With minimal makeup trickery, Cooper manages always to be recognizable as either Uday or Latif, a decent man plunged into a living hell — including assassination attempts — because of his strong resemblance to Uday. Despite being warned never to become involved with a woman in thrall to Uday, he commences a high-risk affair with the elegant Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), who had been forced to become one of Uday’s mistresses. Production designer Paul Kirby amusingly re-creates the interiors of one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in all its vulgar nouveau riche luxury.