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The Devil’s Double: Saturating Sin

By Meredith Alloway · August 1, 2011

I had high hopes for this film. “THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE,” I was making a banner across the sky as I convinced my friends to accompany me to the theater. Yes! It was putting a twist on the classical story of The Prince and the Pauper, setting it in Baghdad, centering it on Saddam Hussein’s decadent son Uday, AND basing it on a true story: how could this not be incredible? With cinema catering today largely toward action, gangster, lust-hungry audiences, the film’s poster of a golden dipped, enthroned Uday Hussein, pretty much says it all, “Our movie is going to be smokin’ hot if we don’t choke ourselves with our own ambition to be badass.”

Based on the novel written by Latif Yahia (played by Dominic Cooper), the unfortunate look-alike of Uday Hussein (also Cooper) chosen to be his “fiday” or body double, the concept itself is extremely compelling. After enduring horrendous torture and the threat of his family’s safety, Latif agrees to take on the responsibility of becoming Uday’s “brother”, a job that encompasses staying by his side at all times, taking a bullet if needed and bearing witness to his continuous acts of debauchery, rape, and murder – the worst part being that Latif can’t really say or do anything to stop it. Or can he?

Before going any further, let me say that Dominic Cooper as Uday, Latif AND Latif playing Uday is, well, BOOM. On point, hit it out of the ballpark, well done, bravo, a gold star for you Mr. Cooper! In other words, for his first leading role, graduating from rocking out to Abba in Mamma Mia and playing coy in An Education, he did a wonderful job. While leaving the theater my friend commented, “Hey, no matter how messy the movie was, that man is perfect (I should add that you do see his butt multiple times, and peeps it ain’t too shabby).” Cooper created as wholesome and compelling characters as he could from the material he had to work with. In other words, there is blame to go around for the movie’s problems, but it does not rest at Cooper’s feet.

The first thirty minutes of the film are indeed entrancing, overflowing with Uday’s endless supply of women, weapons, drawers after drawers of Rolexes and his insatiability for blood and sex. But we, like any human being, including the character of Uday himself, grow numb to these things. I wish I had a nickel for every time we saw Uday almost kill someone, rub up on some other woman’s breasts or phone Latif to say, “Come back, I miss you brother.” This repetition in the script became frustrating and made it obvious that something crucial was missing: an arc for the character of Uday. Latif managed to make some sort of journey, but we only had glimpses of his inner struggle, often distracted by the outrageousness of Uday. In the best of the gangster genre, where our antagonist/protagonist lines are vague, the most well written gangster villains do transform. Sam Rothstein in Casino, Vito Corleone in The Godfather and the character most mirroring Uday, Tony Montana in Scarface, all manage to keep their audiences on their toes with their continually surprising paths to destruction. Uday’s behavior becomes so predictable that I heard, no lie, laughing in the theater during a scene where he flagellates a man. If the writers were intentionally making Uday’s character comedic, it did more harm than good. It made the movie too light for it’s own sake. If the script had given into the severity of Uday Hussein’s behavior, allowed the inner struggle of Latif’s character to stand on it’s own, not making him into an action hero (forgot to mention Latif becomes Jason Bourne in the third act) and focused more on making the bombing of Baghdad truly terrifying instead of setting it as background to a sex scene, the film could’ve soared.

The Devil’s Double had the potential to leave the audience with a new villain to loathe and learn from. Instead, it left my friends and I walking out of the theater gorged on debauchery and hungry for meaning. Oh, and with a new character to be at Halloween: Uday with his over-sized teeth and glittered tuxedos.  And don’t forget the gun! All supplies sold at your local Party City.