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by Eric Kohn
July 27, 2011 2:08 AM
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REVIEW | "The Devil's Double" Portrays Uday Hussein as Evil, But Otherwise Fails

"The Devil's Double." Lionsgate.

It's hard to believe that "The Devil's Double" doesn't intend to be a put-on. Despite a real-life basis of its plot, Lee Tamahori's fierce depiction of hedonistic Saddaam Hussein spawn Uday Hussein relegates the character to a farcical cartoon. Looking like a macabre Groucho Marx, Dominic Cooper portrays Uday as a leering, cigar-puffing womanizer who alternates between scowling and grating hyena guffaws.

Cooper takes on a second role as well, playing the innocent Latif Yahia, Uday's lookalike who was forced against his will into becoming Uday's body double. As Yahia, Cooper delivers a vastly superior performance, wearing the dazed expression of a good man trapped in pure evil. He's also a good actor trapped in a bad movie.

Many of the problems with "The Devil's Double" stem from the nature of its narrative. Clearly produced for an English-speaking audience, the movie adopts an illogical method in which characters speak English with vaguely defined "foreign" accents. That unfortunate decision only enhances a synthetic quality that dominates each scene. Cooper's dual role is an equally transparent gimmick: The men look, unsurprisingly, like twins. The contrast provides a constant reminder that Cooper works better with soft-spoken characters and not poorly scripted "SNL" characterizations.

Since Uday's death alongside brother Qusay during the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq, stories of Uday's antics took on a global dimension. The 2010 publication of Yahia's memoir (also titled "The Devil's Double") went to great lengths to flesh out Uday's villainy while attributing his behavior to a delusional power trip. However, Tamahori's adaptation reduces Uday into a cartoonish monster who wouldn't be out of place in a James Bond movie. (Tamahori directed one of the weaker Bond installments, "Die Another Day.")

"The Devil's Double," however, doesn't have the competence to make its history-as-thriller dynamic click. Riddled with grade-Z exploitation and made-for-TV amateurishness, the movie presumably uses shocking imagery to underscore the dark mind behind it. But when Uday literally spills the guts of his father's friend across a dinner table, "The Devil's Double" abandons credibility in favor of plain silliness.

Tamahori's filmography, which also includes "xXx: State of the Union," suggests he's the wrong fit for the material. David O. Russell's "Three Kings" successfully brought an American genre to Iraq without simplifying the setting. "The Devil's Double," on the other hand, confirms the crude, one-dimensional character types that still dominate the Western imagination.

Yahia's brief piece for Newsweek, published last week, does a much better job of encapsulating the experience of being subservient to a mad man. He closes by discussing the missed chance for justice that came with Uday's abrupt death. "The Devil's Double" has no such subtlety. It works as a period piece in only the most abstract sense, reflecting a time when Sadaam Hussein's regime still signified enemy number one. Appropriately, it plays like a clueless nightmare.

criticWIRE grade: D

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Lionsgate has high hopes for the film, particularly due to Cooper's committed performance, but poor reviews and a less-than-marketable plot will probably keep it from gaining too much momentum.

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6 Comments

  • Filmaholic | January 1, 2012 9:12 AMReply

    DO NOT listen to reviews like this. The movie was actually brilliant characterization wise, and historically it's pretty accurate too. Although i will admit the gut spilling was a tad bit fake, but aside from that it's DEFINITELY worth watching.

  • Sean | February 17, 2012 9:10 AM

    filmaholic... i agree with you. it took me and my mates a while to get into it but then...it just crips you and you cant look away!

  • jimwv | December 22, 2011 3:35 PMReply

    the movie did not fail in anyway. it was a a good movie while letting out the truth.
    i dont listen to mental migets that write movie reviews. because the rated Chariots of fire,
    a 7 award movie - it stunk

  • Another one | May 17, 2012 6:34 PM

    You sound like a mental miget who just wrote a movie review. Or someone who just read another one.

  • justin | December 22, 2011 1:48 AMReply

    Regardless of how historically correct the plot may or may not have been, this was a great movie. I don't believe it was ever intended to be a documentary, so take it for what it is; a great story. Dominic Cooper kills it. I couldn't walk away without pausing the movie. I plan to add this one to my collection of "bad a$$" flicks.

  • Tom | December 4, 2011 1:45 AMReply

    There is a reason why no one likes your post, it sucks. Go stick that pinky you have up in the air up someone's ass