Movie Review: The Devil’s Double

The Devil's Double Movie (2011)

No one should ever forget the effects of past tyranny. Too much power in the hands of too few is dangerous anyway, but when that power is in the hands of sociopathic or psychopathic leaders, large numbers of people will suffer terribly. So it was for over three decades in Iraq.  Saddam Hussein, like so many sinister men with a hunger for power, took advantage of timing, positioning, and fear to consolidate his dictatorial rule. Saddam borrowed a page out of Hitler’s book. He was good at dividing his enemies, creating paranoia about internal or external threats that may or may not have existed, and keeping people off kilter by showing random acts of benevolence and violence in an arbitrary fashion. Whew! Dictators have so many heads to juggle at the same time!

Donald Rumsfeld meets with Saddam Hussein and shakes hands with him.

Saddam’s progeny inherited his genetic dysfunction or at least were bred to eschew empathy and humane leadership.  His eldest son, Uday Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti, took his father’s charm and turned it up several notches, fueled it with cocaine, sexual aggression, and way too much money. Whereas Saddam’s methods seemed to employ violence as a means to secure power, Uday just seemed to enjoy it regardless of the motive.

Saddam Hussein's family

Saddam and Uday Hussein
“Father, let me honor you by spilling the blood of a thousand Shia!”
“How are you going to get the courage to do that, nitwit? Ravage their men and women with your syphilis? Your mother shouldn’t have home-schooled you as a teenager.”
Saddam and Sajida Hussein at a party
This was one of the last pictures I grabbed. By then I was bored. So, I made some blank word balloons for you. Go ahead. Make up your own witty dialogue. You’re welcome to post it in the comments.

Saddam and Sajida Hussein on vacation

Within an oppressed society there are those whose outrage will not tolerate injustice and in spite of the possibility of retribution, they will fight for the good cause. So it was not uncommon that the Husseins found themselves at risk for assassination. A standard practice by dictators is to use body doubles to minimize the risk of a successful operation. Saddam had his doubles and as Uday grew into a big shit of a man, he too inherited the need for a stand-in.

Early photos of Saddam Hussein and Sajida Talfah
In actuality, it made sense that Sajida served as her husband’s occasional body double. She shared many of the same facial characteristics given that she was Saddam’s first cousin (thus explaining Uday’s Deliverance disposition), she was burly and mannish, and when they both grew out their mustaches, they were dark and full.
Latif Yahia and Uday Hussein
Latif Yahia and Uday Hussein

Enter Latif Yahia, a boyhood schoolmate of Uday’s. He looked remarkably similar to Uday and was tapped, against his wishes, to fill the role of the double. Latif served as the nutcase’s public distraction for several years before a falling out between the men led to Latif running for his life. Eventually, Uday went tits up and Latif’s story became public.

Well, that’s the story anyway. Like so many outrageous biographical stories, there’s always the possibility of deceit or at least embellishment. Biographical dramas, after all, play ambiguously in the real world and make-pretend land. There are several sources that dispute Latif’s claim. But for the sake of this post, let’s assume that the facts are essentially there and that The Devil’s Double is mostly accurate.

The Review

Dominic Cooper in The Devil's Double

The Good: If you liked Scarface, chances are you’ll like this movie. The bombastic lifestyles of the rich and famous with their excesses of drugs, women, guns, cars, and money have a certain pornographic appeal. People loath the wealthily corrupt but are voyeuristically fascinated by them. The Devil’s Double  paints the picture of an obscenely charasmatic pyschopathic who held everyone around him in terror while he went about his business of self-indulgence.

Uday Hussein killing Kamel Hana Gegeo
Uday was always the death of the party.

Dominic Cooper looked close enough to Uday to pull it off, especially after the gap-toothed overbite was inserted. He did a convincing job of playing both the Uday and Latif roles concurrently. Dominic made us believe he was two separate people.

Dominic Cooper as Uday Hussein and Latif Yahia in The Devil's Double.

The other players were minor backdrops except for Ludivine Sagnier as Uday’s lust interest, Sarrab. She plays a sexually charged sympathetic character in the film.

Sarab Dancing at the Disco

What’s interesting in biopics is when real world events course into the story. All of the major events depicted in the film occurred, even if they were tweaked liberally. Uday did slaughter Saddam’s food taster Kamel Hana Gegeo (purportedly because Saddam met his second wife through Kamel, which enraged Uday because it insulted his mother), Uday did go near the front lines to rally the troops during the Iraq-Iran war, Uday did suffer grievous injuries in an assassination attempt, Uday did torture players of the Iraqi soccer team when they lost games, and Uday did make a habit of trolling for young girls.

Uday survives an assassination attempt
Contrary to rumor, Uday’s dick didn’t get shot off in the assassination attempt. He was born without one. So, no harm done, really.

It isn’t quite as clear if Latif’s story of individual events were historical, like the time another man’s bride killed herself after being raped by Uday on her wedding day or Uday’s tryst with a transgender person. It’s probably only speculative that Uday had a quasi-incestuous relationship with his mother or that Sarrab was even a real person. We also don’t know if Latif actually slit his wrists while arguing with Uday. But, it all makes fantastic storytelling!

Uday Hussein has an incestuous relationship with his mother
I believe it. Why not? Sajida was Saddam’s cousin so there was already a precedence for this sort of thing.
Also believable. Uday was a sexually progressive man. A knuckle-dragging, skull-smashing man, yes, but still progressive. It’s amazing what a chick with a dick and a man with no glans can come up with in the sack.

The Bad: OK, the good is also the bad. The risk a biopic drama takes is that if it purports itself to be a story “based on actual events” it has opened the door to speculation. Taken as a story in and of itself, The Devil’s Double is engaging. But with the noted parenthetical claim, it does stand to suffer because skepticism is inevitable for those viewers that value authenticity. Again, we don’t know if Latif’s claims are primarily truthful, but we have to wonder.

The actual events in The Devil's Double are suspect.

The film isn’t profound. It doesn’t really leave you with any sort of moral judgement and Lee Tamahori (director) doesn’t flower up the movie with a bunch of artistic elements. Even the violence is somewhat limited given the scope of the malevolence that Uday purportedly employed (don’t get me wrong, though — this movie is plenty violent).  The primary intention is to mirror a madman with his anti-doppelgänger, and depict the counterfeit man’s struggle to maintain his identity and humanity.

Uday Hussein looks like Steve Harvey
There was a brief “Steve Harvey” period too. Steve thought he was going over to Iraq to do some impersonation sketches. During a taping, he even went so far as to flip the switch on an electric line attached to a detainee’s junk, but as soon as he found out it was all “for real,” Steve kept it real and jetted out of the country as soon as he could. In a recent interview he explained: “Of course I left. What do you think? I mean, Uday is a kook. And besides, the ladies had more facial hair than I do. It kinda tickled when we got into a thing, but at the end of the day, I’m not a Tea Baghdadder. Much.”

The Ugly: The box office. While the budget was small (about $19 million), the take at the theaters was an abysmal $1.3 million. It’s unfortunate that concurrent films like Conan the Barbarian or Cowboys and Aliens got a massive marketing and media budget and thereby crowded out opportunities for small films like The Devil’s Double. Well, here’s hoping it gets some its money back in sales and rentals. If you have Netflix, go put it into your queue.  It’s not the best film in its genre (I’m calling it a “historical thriller” because that’s so original, right?), but it’s worth far more than the box office reflects.

Dominic Cooper in The Devil's Double
In the end, Dominic Cooper’s man meat still wasn’t enough to draw people into the theaters.

Our take on things:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Other pictures from The Devil’s Double

Sex in The Devil's Double
Latif Yahia in Devil's Double Latif Yahia attempts to commit suicide by cutting his wrists Sarrab dancing sensually at the discoUday Hussein was violent sexually

The Players

Dominic Cooper as Latif Yahia in The Devil's Double

Ludivine Sagnier as Sarrab in The Devil's Double

The Movie Poster

The Devil's Double Movie Poster
Click for the crazy big version of this most awesome of awesome movie posters.


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One thought on “Movie Review: The Devil’s Double”

  1. That fact that you reviewed this odd movie is puzzling. I’m impressed and concerned at the same time. I don’t want to just end up reading your stuff because you are entertaining. I want to read your stuff because you have something to say. Uday? 🙂

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