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Dustin Putman

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The Devil's Double  (2011)
2 Stars
Directed by Lee Tamahori.
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Philip Quast, Mem Ferda, Dar Salim, Khalid Laith, Pano Masti, Nasser Memarzia.
2011 – 108 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong brutal bloody violence and torture, sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and pervasive language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 3, 2011.
"The Devil's Double" sheds fascinating—but no less disturbing—light on twisted true events that prove stranger than fiction. With the Gulf War of 1990 raging on, military officer Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) is summoned to Saddam Hussein's Presidential Palace in Baghdad and given an ultimatum: either give up his identity and work as a body double for Saddam's power-obsessed eldest son Uday (Dominic Cooper in a dual role), whom he closely resembles, or face torture and risk the safety of his close family. After a stint in solitary confinement, Latif agrees to play along, receiving plastic surgery and dental work to perfect the uncanny physical resemblance. Now, living in the lap of luxury and following Uday around while cut off from his own life and loved ones, Latif lays witness to a murderous psychopath whom he wonders if he'll ever be able to escape from.

Directed by Lee Tamahori (2007's "Next"), "The Devil's Double" is above all an actor's showcase for Dominic Cooper (2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger"), up until this film a consistently working thespian who had yet to find his breakthrough role. Portraying not only Latif Yahia, but also the megalomaniacal Uday Hussein, it is safe to say his star—and the quality of the parts he receives—will be going through the roof from this point forward. Cooper's work is fearless, unhinged, and notably tricky, but there isn't a moment that goes by when the viewer cannot tell which character he is playing in any given scene. The fact that he succeeds at such a thing when Latif and Uday look identical is nothing short of a revelation.

The film is lurid by necessity, full of drugs, sex, financial excess, and spurts of graphic violence so unflinching it'll have viewers recoiling in shock and disgust. Indeed, Uday is a lunatic, but he's good-looking, charismatic (when he's not blowing his cool), and powerful enough to have virtually whatever (and whoever) he wants. One of his women, the sensuous Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), is trapped by Uday, knowing full well that the second he tires of her will be the last second of her life. She secretly latches onto the saner, even-keeled Latif—himself in a similar situation to her—but can they possibly get away without grim consequences following them? As Sarrab, Ludivine Sagnier (2003's "Peter Pan") is an eye-catcher, sexy but with a depth and longing to back it up. It would be difficult for anyone to share the spotlight when Cooper is on the screen, but Sagnier holds her own and remains a memorable anchor of reasonable levity for Sarrab and Uday to swarm around.

The sticking point with "The Devil's Double" is in the screenplay by Michael Thomas. In order to fully grasp and understand just what Latif has lost, it would have helped to better establish what he had to begin with. Background information on who Latif was before he must, for all intents and purposes, become a different man—and one that he disdains for all that he is and stands for—is left sketchy at best. Rooting interest, then, depends on Dominic Cooper's sterling performance. Without him, the picture would be more style than substance. As is, it's an intriguing story, but one that is only occasionally dramatically sound. When it meanders in the third act for too long just as it should be wrapping up only calls attention to this deficiency. Nevertheless, Cooper's awards-bound turn is impossible to turn away from. Through sheer force and vigor, he ensures that "The Devil's Double" remains a film of frequently electric interest.
© 2011 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman