The Devil's Double
Directed by: Lee Tamahori Cast: Dominic Cooper Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: R Release Date: August 5, 2011
PLOT: A man (Cooper) with a strong physical appearance to Saddam Hussein's son Uday (Cooper) is hired to be his double.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Filmgoers who like movie misogyny, presentations of power, and shiny things might find the movie enticing in some materialistic way. History-minded folk might find a more exciting telling of Latif Yahia's strange story in one his many books - "I Was Saddam's Son" is only $949.52 on Amazon.com!
EXPECTATIONS: From a single glance at both the movie's poster and trailer, The Devil's Double looked like it would be a unique summer movie experience. Especially when browsing this summer's list of PG-13 book adaptations and comic book heroes, the concept of a movie about a villain, especially a Hussein, seemed like it would make for a challenging view. Going into a movie like this, you have to ask yourself, "What's so alluring about watching a movie about Hussein extravagance during our debt ceiling era?"
Dominic Cooper as Uday Hussein and Latif Yahia: While Cooper might be working double duty on the lead characters of his story, he takes the more simpler route when it comes to portrayals. He's certainly able to make us forget that we're watching one actor act twice in a scene, but he does so by making the characters polar opposites, and strips them of their complexities. Uday is simply crazy, and giggles a lot during his maniacal moments. Latif is quiet and contemplative for the most part during the movie, whenever he's not trying to escape from the grasp of Uday. The accents for both characters are shoddy. It actually would have been better if the roles had been played by a single person each, as Cooper shows that the heaviness of these characters shouldn't be molded into a somewhat gimmicky balancing act. Score: 4
TALKING: While the movie might take place in Iraq and feature human beings who would hardly be inclined to speak English all that often, The Devil's Double is indeed in English. This isn't a strike against the movie, but this attribute takes away the movie's mysticism even more, and makes it feel more Hollywood than fresh. The film's dialogue itself is guilty of repeating the same ideas, without elaborating on its bigger issues. Interactions between Latif and Uday are generally pretty straightforward, and involve Latif trying to escape, while Uday claims he owns Latif, and can do whatever he wants, yadda yadda yadda. The heated discussions between the two hardly fuel any post-film dialogue as to the nature of "the double," or even what it's like to be a doppelganger, something that has made for very interesting cinema in the past. Score: 4
SIGHTS: For the most part, The Devil's Double feels lacking of visual style. It makes an effort to lighten the shade of its gold tint as the story goes on, something that originally feels slightly seductive, but then we forget about this cinematographic statement altogether. The nudges at the idea of the double, through reflections and mirrors, feel ultimately weak. Even the movie's sporadic moments of violence, which include a couple of cringing gory moments, feel like visual cheap shots. Score: 5
SOUNDS: Ghostly doubled electric guitars peek into the movie every now and then to play between intense moments, but there's hardly a time when the unsurprising score has much of an effect with anything happening on-screen. Popular tunes like "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood are used in the film's few club scenes. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: Tough to pick a scene. The moment in which Uday is harmed at the end is pretty rewarding.
ENDING: Latif makes a heroic effort to erase his double brother, but after some clunky Hollywood dramatics, finds a way to erase himself instead.
QUESTIONS: In the world of this movie, what is Uday's brother, Qusay up to? Would this movie be much better if it weren't in English, and played by someone who looks more like an Iraqi? Was there some suggestion in this movie at an Oedipal complex for Uday?
REWATCHABILITY: A second viewing would feel pretty sludgy. As much as I'm a bit in disbelief as to how disappointing this movie is, I don't feel like a second viewing would at all redeem the movie, or alter my first impression.
Doppelgangers have been key poetic tools for storytelling since its beginning, and its a concept that has shined especially with the minds of filmmaking geniuses like Hitchcock. Thus, the concept of having a "double" is indeed stranger than fiction, but all the more compelling due to its truth. The "double" is especially fascinating due to what it says about power - not only can tyrants have control over a mass of people, but they can have complete, 100% puppet control over another human being, simply because of an innocent person's looks. In the books of some materialists, it could be considered the ultimate accessory.
All of this being said, The Devil's Double adds another "D" for "disappointment" by failing to say anything remarkable about the "D" for doppelganger. Even with a master sicko (and we do love our villains), the movie struggles to go into the complex nature of its characters, and even hesitates to visualize the nightmarish aspects of "the double." With the bits of grotesqueness that Uday presents in the movie, we understand he's a monster, but we don't get as much a feeling for Latif, who is often on the sidelines, forced to watch. Latif isn't Uday's double as much as an assigned bro to pick up some of the pieces after he makes a mess. No one close to Uday really believes the fake Uday, and Latif only makes a public appearance as fake Uday a couple of times. If anything, it's the audience who is tooled around, but in a sloppy fashion - scenes will begin with who we think is Uday, but then we find out it's actual Latif. For no reason at all.
This indifference to break poetic ground with the seductively looking Devil's Double (just look at the all gold poster!) comes also from the movie's attachment to some Hollywood standards, including dramatic slow-motions during assassinations, and people flubbing a kill by saying things like "This is for my wife!" before they can fire.
Both Uday and Latif are stranger than fiction characters that would make great films, but they're wasted here by an adaptation with a much more simpler objective. Staring at the poster alone will have more effect than seeing this dull disappointment.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10