Given that there are a bucket load of films about the war in Iraq, it’s perhaps a little surprising that it’s taken so long (with the exception of the TV mini-series House Of Saddam) for a movie to be made about Saddam Hussein’s family.
It’s therefore a pity that writer/director Lee Tamahori has made a film which doesn’t even consider the political dynamics and instead wallows in naked exploitation to which you can only draw the shallow conclusions of “Dictators are bad”, “Torture is wrong” and “Uday Hussein was not a nice man”.
Dominic Cooper plays the dual role of the psychotic eldest son of Saddam, Uday Hussein (who resembles a homicidal Freddie Mercury) and his body double Latif Yahia upon whose autobiography the film is based.
Uday was certainly an unpleasant individual with a hair-trigger temper which saw him shoot people on a whim, abduct schoolgirls from the streets only to drug, rape them and discard them when he was done; a spoilt, vicious child whose desires were left completely unchecked. Latif by contrast was a measured and reasonable person, forced by the threat of torture and death to impersonate Uday at functions Uday deemed beneath him.
Cooper is brilliant, often acting with himself thanks to some seamless CGI shenanigans. He plays Uday to an almost cartoonish degree, foam flecking at the corners of his mouth as he spins into yet another demented rage. The manic excesses of Uday are completely toned down for his portrayal of Latif but the role is left woefully underdeveloped. If Uday is the personification of wanton debauchery, a sort of Iraqi Tony Montana, Latif is the avatar of two-dimensional boredom.
But as excellent as Cooper is, even he can’t save a save a script which focuses far too strongly on Uday’s gaudy excesses. These are played up so far that they often stride into melodrama – Uday raping a newlywed bridge before she takes a rooftop dive suicide is tacky and ill-judged and coated with a distasteful gloss which is completely inappropriate. There’s also a spectacularly clunky romantic subplot spotlighted more than a Broadway musical (Uday’s advisor to Latif: “whatever you do, you must never, ever touch his women”) which even features the couple on horseback, riding into the sunset.
It’s actually remarkably similar to the plot of The Last King Of Scotland – naïve but good individual gets caught up in a regime run by psychotic dictator from which he can’t escape. Sadly The Devil’s Double lacks the taut direction and, crucially, the well-written script to compete even though Dominic Cooper excels.