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Worth A Look: 3.85%
Pretty Bad: 23.08%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Devil's Double, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Interesting set-up, mediocre film."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: You'd be forgiven for thinking that a movie taking place amid the inner circle of Saddam Hussein's family over the past twenty-five years, and featuring the potential plot twists and mind-benders of look-alikes, would be something fairly exciting. Unfortunately, the actual experience of watching "The Devil's Double" never gets beyond thinking about what an interesting idea this is, so that even the more lurid bits fall short of actually being exciting.

Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) was in the Iraqi army during the war with Iran, as were many, and he's a bright young man, but that's not why he gets selected for special duty: He bears an uncanny resemblance to his former university classmate, Uday Hussein (also Cooper), son of Saddam (Philip Quast), and is thus recruited to serve as Uday's double, standing in when it might be dangerous or inconvenient for Uday to do so himself. "Take the place of a hated autocrat at times when people might shoot at him" is not a job Latif particularly wants, but that's a family you didn't say no to at the time, and so Latif is given surgery to further increase their similarity. And so he comes to be kept in a gilded cage, living like the prince in a palace but without freedom - a situation somewhat shared by Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), Uday's current preferred mistress.

The Devil's Double is based upon true events and the real-life Latif's accounts of this life, and as the film goes on, one might find oneself wishing it was less "based upon" than "suggested by" or "inspired by" those stories. That last paragraph, after all, is not a story, but merely a set-up, one which would ideally be followed by the characters doing something interesting - Latif being recruited to do espionage work against the Hussein regime, or having to take Uday's place for an extended period and have to do horrible things to keep the secret, or becoming involved in a genuinely complicated and conflicted relationship with Sarrab. And while the script by Michael Thomas hints at all of these possibilities, it never up and runs with one.

Sure, this may be accurate, but making this series of relatively small events compelling is another thing altogether, and that's an achievement that director Lee Tamahori isn't quite able to manage. For all that we're told of Uday's grand excesses and depravities, Tamahori seldom manages to make it connect on a visceral level. We're given lists, and shown Uday losing his temper, but Tamahori tends to cut away from the shot that will seal the audience's disdain as something truly felt rather than something they know to be the proper response. There's almost never the sense of a greater idea than "this is a peculiar thing that happened" at play.

Perhaps Cooper should be held somewhat culpable for this; maybe he does too good a job of keeping his performances as Uday and Latif separate when the movie might be more interesting if the audience started to see bits of Uday appear in his Latif scenes as the film goes on. On the other hand, Coopers performances are impressive enough not to be messed with. As much as the pair are exemplars of opposing characteristics by nature, Cooper does an excellent job of making them both feel human and genuine, with personalities that go beyond one note. He works with what he's given, and it never seems like his fault that supporting character Uday's sociopathy winds up more interesting that title character Latif's unease.

The focus on that sharp divide leads to a few other weird characterizations, especially within the Hussein family - Jamie Harding's Qusay comes across as almost reasonable because he's only seen finding Latif preferable to his brother, and Quast's Saddam seems oddly paternal at times, rather than a monster himself. The supporting cast beyond them does all right, but doesn't make a strong impression - Raad Rawi handles "experienced guy who sympathizes with Latif but knows the reality of the situation" well enough, and Ludivine Sagnier can do the pure cool sex thing as well as anybody in the world.

But as good as the cast and production values are (and this is a slick-looking movie), they can't do much without a story or even a real theme. "The Devil's Double" has a number of very nice pieces, but they don't add up to very much.

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originally posted: 08/22/11 09:18:52
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Berlin International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

12/16/11 damalc very entertaining, though the credibilty is suspect. 21st century Caligula/Scarface 4 stars
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  29-Jul-2011 (R)
  DVD: 22-Nov-2011


  DVD: 22-Nov-2011

Directed by
  Lee Tamahori

Written by
  Michael Thomas

  Dominic Cooper
  Ludivine Sagnier
  Mimoun Oaissa
  Raad Rawi
  Philip Quast

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