The Devil’s Double is an independent film loosely based on the autobiography of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier conscripted to serve as the body double of Uday Hussein, subbing for him at public events where the risk of assassination was deemed too high for the real Uday to attend. British actor Dominic Cooper does a phenomenal job in the dual role of Uday/Latif. Because the two characters spend much of the film on screen together, many scenes had to be shot twice, with Cooper using a concealed earpiece to listen to the playback of his alter ego’s dialogue. It’s technically seamless, and Cooper plays Uday and Latif in such a way that you’re never confused about who’s who.
It’s a fascinating film. A lot of reviews compare it to Scarface, and it’s true that the movie borrows heavily from the gangster genre, but the plot reminded me more of the Caligula arc of I, Claudius. The story’s not about the rise and fall of a bad guy, it’s about a good guy trapped in the orbit of a psychopath.
The Devil’s Double is also similar to I, Claudius in its depiction of violence. There’s very little gore, and one of the most disturbing sequences—a scene near the beginning where Latif is shown grainy video of Uday torturing members of the losing Iraqi Olympic team—is completely bloodless. Likewise, the film (accurately) depicts Uday as a particularly depraved serial rapist, but the act of rape is never shown, only the stalking and intimidation leading up to it and the devastating results. Nudity, what there is of it, is used to emphasize vulnerability, rather than for purposes of titillation. The result of all this restraint is to make the violence feel much more intense, because your imagination keeps filling in the blanks on the really nasty stuff you don’t see.
Although it’s “based on a true story,” the filmmakers are upfront about the fact that much of the movie is pure fiction. I’m cool with that, so long as the fiction is plausible, which most of it is. The one part that did trip my suspension of disbelief was the last act, where in order to give the story a sense of closure, the filmmakers contrive to make Latif part of the 1996 assassination attempt that left Uday crippled. Besides being too neat to be true, this goes against the real Latif’s stated wishes: In an interview included as a DVD extra, he says he was furious when he heard that U.S. forces had killed Uday in 2003. He didn’t want Uday dead. He wanted him arrested and put on trial.
You can watch a trailer of the film here. The DVD is definitely worth checking out, if you can handle the violence. And don’t miss the special features.