There have been a lot of films out that deal with the Iraq war and the various political situations that region of the world has had to deal with since that time. Most of these efforts are trying so hard to make some radical political point that they tend to serve their audiences poorly as entertaining films. Happily, that’s not the case with Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double. The film cuts through the polarizing political elements and provides a brutal view of the Hussein regime through the actions of one of Saddam’s sons, Uday. Tamahori has created a modern Scarface by using those regime elements to paint the picture of a man overwhelmed with power and driven to excess. Unlike Scarface, Uday is not an outlaw; rather in this environment he is the law, and suddenly we have a film that delivers a unique take on the theme of the corruption of power.
Latif (Cooper) is a simple soldier in the Iraq army in the days before the Kuwait invasion. He has been called to the Royal Palace, summoned by Prince Uday (Cooper) whom he had known in his school days. The two share a remarkable resemblance that Uday intends to exploit. He wants a body double to help protect him from the various threats that his position elicits. Latif attempts to decline, but Uday threatens his entire family if he doesn’t accept. Acceptance means that Latif is now dead, and he is to live in the palace with all of the luxury of a prince. Uday refers to him as his brother. But instead of having Latif take his place in public, he merely drags him around with him. It’s a poor plan for a body double, because it soon becomes pretty much general knowledge that this look-alike exists. Latif finds himself more and more disgusted as he is drawn closer in toward this world. All he wants now is to escape.
The bulk of the credit here falls at the feet of Dominic Cooper who plays both Uday and Latif. There are ever so slight variations in the actual look of the characters, but we never are lost for a second as to which one we are watching. Cooper develops two quite opposite characters that pass the test of proximity and appearance. Everything from the look in his eyes tells us the radical difference between these two characters. He carries his body language so much differently. Without saying a word we know which character Cooper inhabits at each turn. It’s a remarkable performance that honestly makes or breaks the movie.
The locations add just the right element of realism, and the story takes us through the more famous events of the Hussein story. Latif is there as Kuwait is invaded and part of the palace entourage as the Allied Forces beat the nation back into submission. Local actors continue the atmosphere of authenticity here. The film becomes incredibly immersive. It’s based on a novel written by Latif himself. While the film has been obviously fictionalized, we’re kept grounded throughout. It’s a film unlike anything I’ve seen in a while and deserving of a closer look.
The Devil’s Double is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35-40 mbps. The high-definition image presentation is highly atmospheric as well. Detail brings out the wonderful production design and locations. Colors lean heavily toward the warm, leaving a bit of an orange or golden tint to the color scheme. Black levels are quite impressive. Close-ups on the actors provide the best evidence of texture and detail. Cooper’s acting demands attention, and the image quality gives you every opportunity to appreciate it.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is nearly as impressive. It’s somewhat of a budget film, but the sound design is quite dynamic. Dialog is always crystal clear. There are moderate lows, and some of the surrounds get a bit too loud and aggressive during the action moments.
True Crime Family: (16:10) HD Cast and crew talk about turning this true-life event into a fictional gangster film.
Double Down With Dominic Cooper: (8:40) Here’s a look at the duel role that Cooper pulled off so well.
The Real Devil’s Double: (7:44) SD Promotional piece about the real Latif.
It’s been a long time since I saw a good gangster film. That wasn’t exactly what I was expecting here. I had seen so much drivel about the Iraq war that I was somewhat dreading having to watch another one. But this one is far more like those 50’s gangster films. It was a brave choice, and I think one that makes this overlooked film much more than one would expect. Marketing is going to be the film’s biggest trouble. Once the word gets out, however, “the rest is history”.