Impact Film was invited to a press screening of Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double, starring Dominic Cooper in the two lead roles. Here are our thoughts…
The Devil’s Double plays out as a showcase for Dominic Cooper’s supreme acting talent. While there is plenty of entertainment in watching the previous star of Starter for Ten, Mamma Mia and The Duchess strut his stuff, the film builds very little around him, seeming lightweight in virtually all of its other aspects.
Cooper plays both Uday Hussein, the son of infamous dictator Saddam Hussein, and Latif Yahia, Uday’s forcibly assigned double. In fact, utilising the miracles of CGI, he plays both at the same time — there are moments of clunkiness but for the most part the super-imposing scenes look pretty smooth. The plot chronicles the difficult relationship between the two, with Uday’s fractious nature keeping us on the edge of our seats pending the inevitable explosion. Interestingly, Cooper’s turn as Saddam’s son is the more impressive of the two roles, despite the fact that he struggled to get into the part when filming began. Cooper stated that the difficulty stemmed from Uday’s lack of redeeming features and that he couldn’t find any empathy with the maniacal character — the actor eventually latched onto the troubled relationship Uday had with his father for inspiration, claiming that the bizarre nature of his upbringing may go some way to explaining his brutal mentality. Truth be told, these sympathies don’t shine through in the movie: violent, sexually manic and unrelenting in his lust for all that’s forbidden to him by the culture he resides in, Uday is a horrific villain.
Latif is stoic, reserved and far less interesting. You get the impression that Cooper had free reign to explore the role of Uday, but was more restricted when it came to his double. This could be explained by the on-set presence of the real-life Latif, whose autobiography the film was loosely based on. This conflict between reality and fiction is one that blights the movie; the interspersed documentary footage that is occasionally used as filler doesn’t gel with the rest of the film, reminding you that despite the “based on a true story” label this is a largely fictitious adaptation. This juxtaposition has worked in the past, though The Devil’s Double’s obvious budget limitations unfortunately make it very difficult to perceive the shot footage as reality.
Another way the lack of money shines through is in the location shooting. Filmed largely in Malta, the film tries hard to appear to be set in Iraq. However, it never really stops seeming like a small island in the Mediterranean. The production team appear to have accepted this fact three-quarters into the storyline, choosing to briefly relocate Latif and his love interest (Ludivine Sagnier) to Malta without much explanation. It’s a jarring plot development and does little to further the narrative.
Clearly where the majority of the production money went is the film’s several action sequences. Looking at director Tamahori’s track record, his films often contain an emphasis on the high-tempo scenes, and The Devil’s Double is no exception. These parts of the film are shot a lot more dynamically, and are emphasised by exploding market stalls, spilling innards and general over-the-top violence. Frankly, it’s all way too garish, but at least it’s relatively exciting, and it does fit well with the larger than life characters that populate the film. At times it’s so horrible it borders on comedic — maybe that’s needed to offset some of the intensity that comes with an insider’s look into the both bizarre and cruel realities of dictatorship.
Where The Devil’s Double falls down is the merging of its individual segments. Cooper’s performance is the undoubted highlight, but the rest of the film never flows around him well enough to make it seem like a complete package. The action also feels a bit sudden and underwhelming, in particular the ending, which is anticlimactic. Overall, the numerous positives — including the film’s excellent prosthetics and makeup — make this worth a watch, though it wont be the low-budget film of the summer.
The Devil’s Double will be released in the UK on 12th August 2011.