Bismillah! Noooo! We will not let you go!
THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE flies high on the performance of one man. Playing two men. Dominic Cooper. In a star-making turn, Cooper plays Saddam Hussein‘s son, Uday Hussein, and the body-double that Uday blackmails into his service, Latif Yahia.
And they both look like Freddie Mercury!
Every politician needs a body double, for those pesky public appearances when your presence alone is enough to make people do stupid things – like vote for you. Directed by Lee Tamahori (ONCE WERE WARRIORS, DIE ANOTHER DAY, NEXT), THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE tells the story of Uday Hussein’s body double, Latif Yahia, a soldier in the Iraqi army, who shared none of the political views of the Hussein dynasty, and whose family was threatened with slaughter if he refused the job.
British Dominic Cooper played Howard Stark (IRON MAN’s father) in the recent CAPTAIN AMERICA, a performance that many young actors would be proud of, but this… this firestorm benchmark catapults him out of the engine pit into the big leagues; a breakout performance, a teachable moment, a nuclear reaction, a comet across the skies…
Movie gives us a sense of time and place – George H.W. Bush’s Iraq War – yet is not a political document, but an insight into the enabled madness of one man; a brutal, driving, terrifying semi-fictional actioner that evokes Pacino’s SCARFACE, with its drugs, beatings, rapes, shootings and arbitrary deaths. But it’s not the Miami underworld – it’s the Iraq “government.” And as Nixon told us, “When the government does it, it’s not illegal!”
As youths, Latif and Uday attended the same school, and – worst luck – Uday remembered Latif’s facial resemblance to him. Now years later, Uday tortures Latif into accepting the post, threatening to send Latif’s family to Abu Ghraib – and god knows, you don’t want your family thrown into Abu Ghraib with those godless American torturers running the place! With makeup, hairstylists and some exacting surgery, Latif is molded to look like Uday, whose hyena-giggling flamboyance and tickled demeanor remind us of Freddie at his cheekiest. At first, we wonder how this Middle Easterner could resemble Freddie so much, then remember – of course! – Farrokh Bulsara’s Zanzibar bloodline didn’t spring from the womb of Whitey Brittania. Bismillah!
When Latif relents and decides to sincerely impersonate Uday, Dominic Cooper’s acting is so brilliantly nuanced that we can still tell the two men apart. Even when Latif is hell bent on mimicking Uday, we can see through his facade, yet Cooper as Uday himself is seamless, unmistakable! It’s a jaw-dropping performance, up there with Keaton in MULTIPLICITY or Rockwell in MOON. We have to consciously beat our temples to remind ourselves this is one man, with camera trickery putting him beside himself.
Latif meets Saddam himself (Philip Quast), who tells him portentously, “Don’t give me a reason to be angry with you”… (We never do meet Uday’s brother, Qusay, Saddam’s other insane son.)
Uday lived the life of a Roman Emperor, every whim and fantasy satiated with impunity: snatching schoolgirls off the street, raping new brides, shooting people for real or perceived insults to him or his country. (It is no coincidence the filmstock seems tinted gold, as all the riches and power flows to the dictators of the country; the rest live in squalor and fear.) Latif looks on in contempt and pure hatred; though he is bequeathed all the wealth, suits, watches and women he needs to play the part of Uday, he is engulfed in Uday’s trigger-happy, demonic petulance. He bonds with his liege Munem (Raad Rawi), telling him, “You’re a good man in a bad job, I understand. But do you know that he’s insane?”
When Uday tries to force Latif to kill an innocent man, Latif can take it no more and begs to be killed himself. Uday tells Latif ominously, “I will never kill you – I love you too much!” while a big insincere smile creases his face. Not that Uday really loves Latif, and not because he particularly likes to have a body double around – he enjoys having HIMSELF around; a bizarre, psychotic narcissism, transferring his soul onto his image. Uday asks Latif, “You are not afraid to die?” Latif replies, “You forget I was dead the day I came here.”
Uday’s clone fantasy culminates when he watches Latif on TV giving a speech to Iraqi troops. Uday reclines with his mother in bed, fully-clothed (is it Oedipal or accepted Middle Eastern culture?), excitedly telling her, “Look mother, it’s me!”
Speaking of bisexual Queen vocalists, Uday’s love interest Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier) looks like a transvestite. Nothing against the poor woman (who is quite beautiful off set), but her character is so badly made up with colored wigs, corpse makeup on that strong jaw and supposedly slinky dresses that do nothing to accentuate her nice figure, that she looks like Freddie Mercury in drag! The Adam’s apple doesn’t help. And the final irony – Uday actually has a predilection for trannies!
Sarrab would eventually gravitate to Latif (I guess she just digs the Bismillah quotient in a man), having a surreptitious affair with him and plotting Uday’s assassination…
And the film’s climax calls to mind those fearful words of Kevin Spacey in THE USUAL SUSPECTS, “How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?”
“Beelzebub has a devil set aside for me, for meee, for meeeeeeeeee!—”