The Devil’s Double

On the eve of the first Gulf War, Iraqi soldier Latif (Dominic Cooper: Captain America) is doing his duty in the skirmishes and dreaming of the day he can leave the military and join his father in the family bookstore.
    Sadly, Latif bears a striking resemblance to Uday Hussein (also Cooper), the eldest and most psychopathic son of Iraqi ruler Saddam. When Latif refuses to become Uday’s fiday — body double — he’s flung into a cell. Failing to change Latif’s mind with some light torture, Uday falls back to his favorite tactic, threatening to kill Latif’s family.
    It works. After some minor plastic surgery and a major wardrobe overhaul, Latif is installed into a life of opulence as Uday’s brother. As such, Latif must occasionally give a state speech, greet foreign dignitaries and enter war zones posing as Uday. But the worst aspect of life as a fiday is living with the son of Iraq’s most powerful man.
    While disgusted by the man he’s sworn to live with, Latif finds that power — and one doe-eyed vixen — makes the daily grind of rape, imprisonment and torture more palatable. Still, he knows it’s only a matter of time before Uday tires of him, meaning Latif must find a way out or wait for his inevitable murder.
    Based on the true story of Latif Yahia, The Devil’s Double is a mix of The Prince and the Pauper and Scarface. Cooper is brilliant in a dual role as the childish and psychopathic Uday and reserved Latif. He seems to have more fun in the flashier role of Uday, where he’s free to waive around guns and scream through buckteeth.
    Latif is a subtler role that Cooper carefully constructs as the diametric opposite of Uday. While he searches for ways to foil Uday’s violent ways, he knows that direct opposition will mean the death of his family. So he begins to act out, as Uday, flipping trays of glasses and shrieking at the help. Cooper adds nuance to each performance, making sure the audience is always able to tell the angel from the devil.
    But two showy performances from Cooper don’t do the movie any favors. As Uday’s favorite lover Sarrab, Ludivine Sagnier (Love Crime) is not so much a person as a pout. Even Iraq is given short shrift in this movie, which was filmed in Malta, reduced to a few interior sets and some cleverly edited news footage. While the film takes pains to introduce you to the dynamics of the Hussein family, you get no sense of the people and what they suffered at the hands of Uday.
    By failing to develop a sense of place or supporting cast, The Devil’s Double is less a feature film than an elongated actor’s reel. Luckily, however, Cooper turns in one heck of a performance.

Good Action Thriller • R • 108 mins.