A curious concoction of Borat, Scarface and CNN, The Devil's Double makes a decent stab of translating the menacing and macabre tale of Iraqi mentalist Uday Hussein and his doppelganger to the big screen. Based on Latif Yahia's autobiographical account, Lee Tamahori's movie makes superb use of Dominic Cooper's talents in both of the lead roles, but flounders by only skimming the surface of the psyche, motivations and compulsions of the central characters.
The Devil's Double begins with archive news footage that succinctly contextualises the events that unfold, depicting the barbaric bloodshed perpetrated by Saddam Hussein's regime in the late 1980s. Amidst the carnage, the dictator's sadistic son Uday is leading a depraved and hedonistic lifestyle that revolves around torture, drugs and sex. Equipped with a bushy moustache, bulging eyes and excitable voice, he parades around the clubs resembling a psychopathic Borat. Uday's high profile and frequent attempts on his life necessitate the use of a body double, which is the role Latif is forced to adopt. Physically altered by surgeons, cut off from his family and thrust into a threatening environment, Latif is faced with a series of moral conundrums - and the advances of Uday's seductive mistress Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier).
Tamahori described the production as "truth layered with fiction", which goes some way to exposing the movie's problems. The visual treatment of the extreme brutality and decadence is stylistically heightened for dramatic effect, which creates an awkward juxtaposition with the real news footage frequently interspersed within the narrative. It lacks the conviction of the masterful Bronson, which portrayed truthful events within a fantastical framework. Interestingly enough, both films hit their peak in epiphany-inducing sequences that display madness to the soundtrack of 1980s synthpop.
The flaws of The Devil's Double feel more diabolical because of the fascinating premise, which makes one crave a copy of Latif Yahia's book. We're simply not fed enough character information about the double himself, with more time spent wallowing in Uday's excesses and the flirtations of the ill-defined Sarrab. Nonetheless, Tamahori excels on a technical level with what must have been a painstaking effort to incorporate two Dominic Coopers in an array of scenes together as master and servant. As the contrasting pair, Cooper works wonders at distinguishing between each individual through his convincing mannerisms and demeanour - engendering sympathy for the downtrodden Latif and disgust towards Uday.
The terrific dual performances in The Devil's Double ensure that this sensationalised account of Saddam Hussein's merciless son and his beleaguered lookalike is a worthwhile experience. Although a slurry of scripting flaws hamper the emotional impact and resonance of Lee Tamahori's movie, it largely manages to wildly fluctuate between horror and humour in an engaging manner. It's just a shame that the project was geared more towards depicting the 'money shots' rather than probing the psychological complexities behind the actions of the key men.
> Dominic Cooper transforms in The Devil's Double - world exclusive video