‘The Devil’s Double’ Review
A fresh, powerfully acted tale that lacks meat.
Telling a story based on a real life event can sometimes lead to a mundane film, but that can’t be said about ‘The Devil’s Double’ because it definitely has one of the most intriguing stories to tell in quite a while. Add to that an excellent award-worthy performance by Dominic Cooper and it’s a movie that’s well worth your time despite its flaws.
Set in pre war-torn Iraq, it follows Iraqi army lieutenant Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) who is summoned to Saddam Hussein’s palace by none other than his brutal yet exuberant son Uday Hussein (also Dominic Cooper) who’s a sadistic and sex-hungry prince. When Uday forces Latif to become his ‘double’, life changes for Latif as he learns to live life as Uday and becomes witness to all his destructive behavior. But things escalate for the worse as he realises that Uday might be getting out of hand.
The film hooks you right from the first scene and doesn’t waste time with a lot of backstory as we are thrust into the action – Uday wants Latif to be his double and threatens him with the safety of his family. The proceedings are riveting to watch because it’s a story that’s not only timely but something that we haven’t been privy to before. How do you become someone’s double and how does your life change when you literally embody someone else? Particularly when someone else is a sadistic and unpredictable dictator like Uday Hussein? It’s a crisply written screenplay up until this point as we are introduced to different characters from Uday’s world and how his middle class life changes for the better and he is invited into the elite lifestyle of Uday. Wish fulfillment elements are clearly present here and the film plays with that aspect. But at the same time, one can feel that there’s something major that’s going to happen because Uday is just too unpredictable and unhinged of a person on screen. He kidnaps young girls off the streets and rapes them, kills people he doesn’t like and has no sort of moral code whatsoever. And being his double means that Latif has to either take part in it or stay on the sidelines and watch him commit his brutalities. It’s an interesting dilemma for the character and the film effectively explores the options that Latif slowly begins to consider.
While everything is engrossing and highly entertaining to watch until this point, it’s the second half that takes a turn for the worse. I don’t mean that plot developments take place that actually end up ruining the film, but instead the fact that nothing really develops at all. It’s at this point that you realize that while the screenplay has a brilliant premise and set-up that it lays out in the first half, it has nowhere to really go with it other than what we’ve seen already. So it stays on the same track – Uday is once again shown as a sadistic maniac while Latif reluctantly doesn’t do a thing. This is followed by increasingly graphic and depressing scenes of him committing rape and murder without any ramifications and there is a point after which this entire track becomes stale. Thankfully, the film quickly turns towards its finale where a strong sequence saves itself from drowning into mediocrity and the movie ends on the right note. The progression of events to reach that point isn’t very organic, but it’s a fitting end to the story that intrigued you in the first place. I just wish it had more meat on it rather than repeating events of the first act again and again in different scenarios.
But the movie wouldn’t nearly be as good as it is without the unbelievably powerful performance by Dominic Cooper, who excels in a dual role. As Uday, he’s maniacal, sex-hungry and sadistic while still maintaining a comical tone throughout. But still, the audience fears him knowing that an unhinged person like him can flip into a violent rage any minute. At the same time, he plays Latif as a polar opposite – cold, calculating and a silent man who is caught in a dilemma. It’s an extremely hard feat to play off two characters who are meant to be the same person and he does it with a lot of success so much so that each of the characters have a distinct mannerism or trait to them which makes them easily recognisable throughout the film. Not every actor can pull that off, and I really believe that Cooper deserved a lot of praise in terms of awards but was shut out. The entire film depends on his performance and he carries it to a home run.
‘The Devil’s Double’ is definitely worth watching for a fresh story told through a powerhouse performance despite a screenplay that doesn’t have enough meat. The movie looks crisp and keeps you engrossed throughout, and that’s more than what you can ask for from a film of this sort.