New on DVD: The Devil’s Double (2011)

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By all rights, Dominic Cooper’s performance in last year’s The Devil’s Double should have turned this journeyman Brit actor into a major star.

That it didn’t just proves once again the injustices of a life in Hollywood.

Up to now Cooper has been recognized mostly for playing the groom in the movie version of Mamma Mia! He had a small role in My Week with Marilyn.

But here he tackles two roles and pretty much burns up the screen.

Based on real incidents, Devil... is the story of Latif Yahia, an officer in the Iraqi army who in the 1980s was tapped to serve as the official double of Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s notoriously spoiled and violent oldest son.

This allows Cooper to revel in a setup any actor would kill for. Not only does he get to portray two radically different characters, but he also gets to play a third: Latif impersonating Uday.

In certain scenes we cannot be sure which character we’re watching, giving the movie a Twilight Zone-ish twist.

Latif is summoned to the presidential palace—actually it’s more like he’s been arrested—where the utterly amoral Uday explains that he needs a double ... and a friend. (There are several key scenes in which Cooper plays against himself with the help of CG effects.)

With some cosmetic surgery, a set of false teeth and a bit of close observation, Latif becomes almost a perfect clone of Saddam’s No. 1 son.

Uday explains that Latif will be expected to sit in for him at boring public events, give patriotic spiels at army bases and, if necessary, take an assassin’s bullet on behalf of the Hussein clan.

Meanwhile Uday will be carrying on with his usual program: kidnapping, raping, and murdering schoolgirls, throwing insane parties, firing weapons inappropriately, and in general exhibiting the mad, out-of-control behavior that has made him the most feared man in Iraq.

Latif is repulsed but has no choice but to acquiesce. His family—they believe him dead—is under constant surveillance. Should Latif do anything to displease his master, his kin will pay the consequences.

So on the outside Latif—in effect a prisoner living in the lap of luxury—must seem respectful, even friendly to his psychotic doppelganger. On the inside, of course, he’s being torn up.

Small wonder he takes revenge where he can by bedding Uday’s main squeeze (French actress Ludivine Sagnier, almost unrecognizable in a long black wig).

The tale (the script is by veteran Michael Thomas, whose credits include The Hunger and Ladyhawke) bears more than a slight resemblance to The Last King of Scotland, in which a British M.D. finds himself a virtual prisoner of Uganda’s murderous leader Idi Amin. Both films eventually turn into escape stories.

The Devil’s Double was directed in workmanlike fashion by Lee Tamahori, who doesn’t bring a whole lot of style to the proceedings ... but then he doesn’t have to. This is Dominic Cooper’s movie and he owns it from first frame to last.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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