Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Devil's Double

The most controversial thing about The Devil's Double, an art house crime drama sudser about the debauched, decadent son of Saddam Hussein and his innocent doppelganger, is really that it's not in the least controversial at all.  That's not to say there isn't nasty bits of graphic violence and brutal killings, or even spicy bits of sex, but it's telling fairly early on that the film, directed by Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) is really trying hard, perhaps a bit too hard, to be the Middle Eastern Scarface.  History matters little, for The Devil's Double is only interested in classic Hollywood pulp in telling the story of a privileged sociopath, whose all cartoon and no dimension and the innocent stand-in brought in for his safety and entertainment.  Both are played by Dominic Cooper, the lanky young British actor of films like An Education and Mamma Mia!, and the most provocative and startling part of the feature is his performance.  The film itself feels cartoon-y and overdone with nothing but a half-baked story and lots of loose ends.  The film like Scarface is a too much in love with it's own seedy debauchery and ugliness, that one gets the sense that the movie wants Uday Hussein, the infamous son of Iraq, to startle and shake and ultimately become a villainous cinematic hero, in the same vein of Tony Montana, or the murders of Natural Born Killers, but the film has neither the spine, nor the gravitas, nor the conviction to truth to make Uday anything more than an ugly, overly-indulged brat.  Yet Cooper in the role of Uday is nothing short of spellbinding.  Cartoonish for sure, but deathly charming and assured that it makes up the only enjoyment of the ugly, violent experience.  He makes Uday such an immature, caddish flake that even at his most grisly or callous, he's almost like a kid in the candy store.  At the start of the film he brings Latif, a nobler fighter sort to his palace with an offer.  In actuality, it's an enslavement.  Latif, cursed with similar looks to Uday, is sent to be his double, his brother, his bullet-proof vest for the massive amounts of people who want him dead.  That's the premise of the film, and the set-up is nicely put together...but that's all the filmmakers appear to have.  There's lots of scenes of lavish parties, innocents being killed, Uday snorting cocaine all set in the world during the first Gulf War, but there's little substance.  All that's left is the career-elevating turn by Cooper to push the film forward, yet it's striking that his Uday is such a loutish riot, his Latif is so unformed and generic.  C+

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