Oh, has Oscar season started? It sure was nice of Dominic Cooper to ring the bell. The Captain America star’s performances – well, two performances – in Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double are some damned exciting pieces of acting. The movie surrounding him is merely interesting entertainment, but I’m not quite jaded enough to call foul on a film for trying to be great and falling just a little bit short.
Cooper performs double-duty here as both Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein and his body double/decoy, Latif Yahia. As the son of a powerful dictator, Uday needs to find the perfect lookalike to deflect assassination attempts, and his childhood friend Latif is the best candidate in all of Iraq. The problem, of course, is that Uday is a maniac. He’s a severely deranged individual with a propensity for murder, rape and you don’t even want to think about what else. He also throws killer parties. The conflict between both of Cooper’s characters reaches a series of fever pitches that dwarf the rest of the film dramatically. Latif is a captive man here, practically a pet, but he’s a useful one. He’s able to express his independence enough for Uday to hear, but not enough to change his circumstance. Uday may need Latif alive, but he has no such reservations about Latif’s family.
The Devil’s Double joins a long line of films about the Middle Eastern conflict but unlike most of them manages to actually entertain. Even better films than this, like The Hurt Locker, tend to wallow in broodiness. While that’s certainly a factor of any movie that takes war seriously, by itself it offers a very narrow range of the human experience. By allowing his film to wallow in the excess of Uday Hussein’s unbelievably decadent lifestyle, Lee Tamahori – directing his best film since 1997’s underrated The Edge – has crafted a moie that’s as entertaining as it is dramatically involving, at least up until the last act, which he unfortunately allows to fall back on standard action movie clichés. It was truly disappointing to see one of the most anticipated scenes in the movie quickly resort to gunplay, when such clichéd tropes were stealthily avoided right up until then, and the rest of the film unfortunately relies on familiar “man on the run” formulas.
Until then, though, Cooper expertly fills the screen as both the flamboyant Uday Hussein and the reserved, respectable Latif Yahia. Although his dual performance never quite reaches the same subtle heights of Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, I quickly found myself accepting him in both roles. The characters are disparate enough to make it easier to distinguish the two performances, but their complex and suspenseful relationship smoothes out any jarring contrast. Cooper’s performances may not win him an Oscar this year but this is exactly the kind of thing the Academy eats up, so I expect Lionsgate to trot out a serious campaign in his favor. His co-star, Swimming Pool’s Ludivigne Sagnier, is unlikely to get as much attention in the role of the Uday’s sexy girlfriend whom the hero can’t resist. Little is asked of her and not much more is given in return, although having seen her earlier work I know she is capable of better.
The Devil’s Double is a merely strong film bolstered by a fantastic performance, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s disappointing that the film shuts down just before achieving greatness, but it’s hard to be truly angry at a Bronze Medalist. Everyone did an admirable job here. Dominic Cooper’s performance is worth the price of admission alone, but maybe not full price.
CRAVE Online Rating: 7.5/10