Friday, July 29, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Double Vision

History has proven that Saddam Hussein, the late long-ruling dictator of Iraq, was no Mr. Nice Guy. If The Devil's Double is to be believed, however, Hussein's son Uday — a.k.a. "The Black Prince" — was even more decadent and vicious. This fact-based, no-holds-barred exposĂ© of political corruption and immorality opens today in New York and Los Angeles.

"We must have discipline," proclaims Uday, just prior to beating the unfortunate soldier coerced into serving as his body double. Former schoolmates and similar-looking enough to have been confused as brothers, Latif Yahia and Uday form an uneasy partnership, with the safety of Latif's parents and siblings serving as necessary collateral.


As Latif and Uday, Dominic Cooper's performance blew me away. Cooper is probably best known for his role as the fiancé of Meryl Streep's daughter in the movie version of Mamma Mia!, but can also be seen currently in Captain America: The First Avenger as Howard Stark. The Devil's Double marks Cooper's first lead in a feature film. It's a terrific double-turn, and he is particularly good as the unhinged Uday. It doesn't hurt that director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) doesn't refrain from showing off Cooper's impressive physical attributes as well.

Actually, the entire cast is excellent. French actress Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool) utilizes an effective mix of bravado and fear as one of Uday's prostitute mistresses who falls for Latif. Raad Rawi memorably portrays the Husseins' head of security as, in the words of Latif, "a good man in a bad job." As Saddam Hussein, Australian actor Philip Quast inspires no small degree of sympathy once the audience has gotten to know his spoiled, sociopath son (Quast also plays Saddam's double). Mimoun Oaissa has fun as Uday's gay assistant/dresser.


The screenplay by Michael Thomas is insightful, although scenes seem to become repetitive and the violence numbing as the film goes on. According to the press notes, Tamahori drew inspiration from Brian DePalma's 1983 version of Scarface, and it shows in the amounts of cocaine snorted and brutal bloodletting depicted. Like Scarface, The Devil's Double is definitely over the top at times, no less so than during a climactic birthday party Uday throws for himself where the guests are forced to disrobe. But then again, that's likely the way it was in Hussein-era, pre-Gulf War Iraq. Sam McCurdy employs gorgeous photography in desert shades of red, brown and gold of the story's setting, opulence and decadence (the movie was actually filmed in Malta).

"One day when God visits, we'll have justice," one character says. While Iraq is at present still taking slow steps toward democracy, at least the Husseins have been removed from power there once and for all. The Devil's Double makes it abundantly clear that this couldn't have happened a day too soon. See the movie if for no other reason than Dominic Cooper's revelatory performance, and watch a star being born.

Reverend's Rating: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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