Major props have to go to Dominic Cooper in “The Devil’s Double” for taking the performance to 11. In dual roles as Uday Hussein, the psychotically incorrigible son of Saddam, and his level-headed body double Latif Yahia, Cooper proves himself to be significantly more than just a pretty face for those who know him as little more than the cocky sidekick in “An Education” and the guy who can barely muster the effort to put on a shirt but is still lucky enough to land Amanda Seyfried in “Mamma Mia.” He plays Uday with a balls-to-the-wall lack of restraint, a risky move that can be communicated as a sort of foolish ridiculousness to the audience in the hands of an unskilled actor.
But against all odds (and my own personal expectations), it doesn’t come off that way at all. Cooper’s performance as Uday as a man of excess simply emulates the excess surrounding him in the form of gilded palaces, Rolex-laden closets, and harem garden pools. Anywhere else, this demented sexually devious, trigger-happy scion would be wildly out of place. Yet against this backdrop, Cooper soars and scares with his rabid intensity, neither chewing scenery or fading idly into it.
As Latif, the mild-mannered lookalike forced into servitude for Uday, Cooper offers a simple performance that doesn’t dazzle but feels more spectacular thanks to its juxtaposition in the same movie with the crazed madman. It’s a showcase of range for Cooper; concerns that we won’t be able to distinguish the two practically indistinguishable characters from each other evaporates almost instantly as Cooper establishes a firm foundation for both characters and then layers a colossus on top of it.
But now I’ve come to the point of the review where I’ve exhausted just about everything good I have to say about the movie and must shift gears with a word like “unfortunately.” That being said, unfortunately, most of the redeeming value of “The Devil’s Double” begins and ends with Dominic Cooper’s breakthrough performance. It’s a classic example of a good actor ruined by a ho-hum movie that spoils the chance of him getting the attention he really deserves.
Director Lee Tamahori is where I place the root of these problems. The guy must have set out to make “Scarface” in Iraq because at times it just feels like a cry for Brian De Palma and Al Pacino to notice him. Clearly he’s a little too adrenaline-happy trying to replicate Tony Montana because the movie just goes way over the top in ways that it doesn’t need to go there. Do we really need to see the corpse of a raped schoolgirl? Hundreds of butt-naked Iraqi men and women populating a club after Uday makes a strange request on a whim after doing a line of cocaine? The innards of the man Uday slices open? It’s a total 180 if ever there were one from Hitchcock’s incredibly effective implied violence.
This uncontrolled testosterone rage distracts from Cooper and the fascinating complexes of both characters he plays. The script explores both characters, stopping short of really showing us what makes them tick but still manages to fascinate nonetheless. With anyone else, however, they are just given filler lines and one-dimensional personalities so someone other than Cooper can occupy the set. The actors playing them are just as bad, particularly the ethnically ambiguous Ludivine Sagnier as Latif and Uday’s love interest. She looks like a dark Christina Aguilera but has acting skills inferior to those the pop diva displayed in “Burlesque” … and that’s pretty bad.
So if you can look past bad actors, shoddy direction, and the resultant senseless gore and violence, you’ll see one heck of a performance at the core of “The Devil’s Double.” Dominic Cooper is the heart and soul of this picture, and he provides it with all the meat on its bones. But if you can’t look past those things, look forward because this movie should lay the groundwork for some very nice roles in the future for this rising star. B /