The Devil's Double
Starring:Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier
Director: Lee Tamahori
If, like me, you have a perception of Dominic Cooper as a slightly slippery ladies' man - the greased-up groom in Mamma Mia, Keira Knightley's simpering lover in The Duchess, the posturing boulevardier helping lead Carey Mulligan astray in An Education - it may be time for a rethink.
In The Devil's Double, he takes on the twin-role of Saddam Hussein's son Uday, as well as Latif Yahia, the uncannily similar-looking man forcibly plucked for the job of body double - one that becomes more and more challenging, not only when attempts are made on his life whenever he dons the sunglasses and dentures that make his transformation complete, but also when he is forced to witness and sometimes participate in Uday's tyrannical pastimes.
'Self-indulgent' does not begin to describe sadistic party-boy Uday's depicted crimes, whether pulling schoolgirls from the street, raping a bride on her wedding day or eviscerating one of his father's aides after a perceived slight.
The story rips along like the best of docu-fiction, depicting news events already recognisable to the viewer - in this case Iraq's annexing of Kuwait - but with a dramatic personal prism through which to regard them afresh. The Arabic sunlight, palm trees, swimming pools and parties do little to disguise the tyrannical circumstances in which Iraqi citizens found themselves under Saddam's rule, where stakes were immeasurably high for anyone in his inner circle, survival depending on Uday and his entourage's psychotic whim, and one of his many women resigned to the fact she had no escape - she reflects "he chose me".
But the film is ultimately always going to flourish or fail on the performance of Cooper, whose track record as above makes this performance all the more surprising. Sure, his brown-eyed, olive-hued looks give him a head start in playing both Uday and Latif, but his real triumph lies in differentiating between the characters so thoroughly and subtly, you actually forget he is playing both. The double role becomes no Parent-Trap spot-the-join film-editing stunt.
Instead, it's a casting necessity to make us actually start to view Uday's evil through the calmer eyes of Latif, plus Latif's own self-disgust that he, by a fluke of similar cheekbones, has come to be so associated with this psychotic creature, and risk losing his own identity altogether.
If anything, the film tires only when the story separates the pair, but Cooper remains consistent throughout. In this film, he takes a big step on the ladder to prominence as a leading acting talent, with the presence to match. Twice over.
(The Devil's Double is at cinemas from next Wednesday 10 August)
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