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ReThink Review: The Devil's Double -- An Astonishing Performance

Posted: 08/04/11 12:25 PM ET

Last week, a movie called The Devil's Double came out in limited release. It's based on the true story of Latif Yahia, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who was chosen to be the double of Saddam Hussein's sadistic, psychotic son Uday, appearing for Uday at public appearances and being a target for would-be assassins. British actor Dominic Cooper plays both Latif and Uday, and Cooper gives perhaps the most astonishing, extraordinary performance I've ever seen in a movie. No, I'm not exaggerating.

Watch the trailer for The Devil's Double below.


Cooper's stunning dual performance as Latif and Uday is unlike anything I've ever seen before, with Cooper playing both kidnapper and captive, owner and slave, criminal and witness, with two utterly distinct, mesmerizing performances. While Armie Hammer's roles as both Winklevoss twins in The Social Network demonstrated how technology can seamlessly place an actor in a shot opposite himself, The Devil's Double shows the amazing potential that technology holds when combined with an amazing story and a truly exceptional actor. The technology also supports director Lee Tamahori's clever vision to turn the story of Uday Hussein into a gangster movie instead of a political/historical thriller, with the digital cinematography giving The Devil's Double a slick, shiny look that perfectly matches both the opulence of Saddam's palaces and the decadence of the 80s when the film takes place.

I had never heard of Cooper before seeing The Devil's Double, though he's been quickly rising through the ranks of top British actors. But after watching The Devil's Double, I knew that I and the rest of the world would inevitably be seeing much more of his astounding talent in the future. In fact, I next saw Cooper in Captain America: the First Avenger (see my review here), where he has a small role as Howard Stark, father of eventual Iron Man Tony Stark. After the film, a friend I had brought with me asked me who the actor was who played Stark, noting that even though Stark has few lines in the film, he was somehow always the most interesting character in any scene he was in. To which I said, "That's that guy Dominic Cooper from The Devil's Double who I won't shut up about."

Listen to my review of The Devil's Double on the Uprising show with Sonali Kolhatkar by clicking on the image below.

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Transcript:

Imagine if the cruelest, most psychotic gangster on earth chose you to be his body double and impersonator to fill in at public appearances and be a target for would-be assassins. Now imagine he also wanted to be your best friend, and that he'd kill your family if you refused. Now imagine this deadly mental case's father was the dictator of an oil-rich middle eastern country, and you have 'The Devil's Double', an extraordinary new film based on the true story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier who was chosen in the late 80s to be the double of Uday Hussein, the sadistic eldest son of Saddam Hussein. 'The Devil's Double' is probably the best film I've seen all year, and that is largely due to the truly astonishing performance by Dominic Cooper, who plays both Uday and Latif in what has got to be one of the most mesmerizing performances in movie history. No, I am not fucking with you.

Films like 'The Social Network' have shown us that advances in digital filmmaking have made it possible to convincingly have one actor play two characters onscreen. But Dominic Cooper's riveting performance takes this to a new level as he not only plays a homicidal nutbag and the man he's essentially taken hostage, but also the hostage trying to impersonate the homicidal nutbag.

Cooper's performances as Latif and Uday are so radically different, and the technology so seamless, that you will quickly and easily accept that these are two completely different people. And if you do find yourself pondering the fact that Uday and Latif are played by the same actor, you'll probably be thinking: "Man, those effects are amazing!" and/or "I cannot believe how incredible this Dominick Cooper guy is. Where did he come from?"

Well, he came from England, where the handsome, ripped 33-year-old has quickly been distinguishing himself as one of the most promising talents of a generation, with standout roles in British theater and TV, and recently in successful films like 'An Education', 'Mamma Mia!', and 'Captain America'. Trust me, you're going to be hearing a lot more from this guy.

The bright, widescreen digital cinematography gives the opulent settings the slick feel of a modern-day rap or gangster video juiced with over-the-top 80s extravagance. When violence comes in 'The Devil's Double', it is always shocking, and often heartbreaking. Uday, as a character, is one of the most terrifying, repugnant movie villains of all time, a murderous, self-obsessed, unrepentant rapist and torturer who is completely untouchable. In the eyes of his victims we not only see their pain, but the pain Uday's existence causes the people of Iraq. Latif is utterly sympathetic as a good man forced to become the man he despises, just hoping to survive with his soul intact. Perhaps my only quarrel with 'The Devil's Double' is French actress Ludivine Sagnier, who plays Uday's favorite girl who quickly falls for Latif. While that might've happened in real life, it's a bit cliché, and while Sagnier is good at playing super sexy and is apparently a good actress, she does slow things down later in the film.

But that takes little away from this remarkable movie that could be classified as a gangster/spy/serial killer/kidnapping/love triangle/political/historical/mafia/Hitchcockian/action thriller. Again, I'm not exaggerating, Dominick Cooper gives what is quite possibly the greatest performance I've ever seen, making 'The Devil's Double' feel not only like a quantum leap for digital filmmaking and genre, but of acting, with Cooper achieving something that will be studied and admired for generations to come.


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