Dir: Lee Tamahori. Belgium. 2011. 108mins


A crazy lurid vision of Iraq in its oil-rich heyday before and after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, The Devil’s Double imagines Uday Hussein, the elder son of Sadaam Hussein, as a later day Arab Scarface. A Ferrari-driving, cigar-smoking, cocaine-snorting madman, Uday (Dominic Cooper) resembles a long line of compelling screen gangsters who crack up and maim people indiscriminately at the slightest irritation.

The film’s more fascinating relationship is between Uday and Latif, with Dominic Cooper pulling off the dual roles admirably.

When Uday decides he must have a body double, like those that protect his father, he recruits Latif Yahia (also Cooper), an army lieutenant with a striking resemblance, and makes him an offer he can’t refuse. “Think it over,” he says with a shit-eating grin. “You have 10 minutes.”

While the preposterous nature of the story could limit theatrical appeal, particularly in the US, where all things Iraq are a tough sell, The Devil’s Double should get its due internationally, with its salacious trappings and foreign stars driving considerable sales.

Based on a book by the real-life Latif Yahia, the film charts the man’s experiences within Uday’s ranks. Treated to videos of torture and threats to his family, Latif has no choice but to take Uday’s orders and sit quietly on the sidelines as the lunatic son commits a succession of outrageous acts, from slashing open the gut of his father’s confidante at a party to snatching schoolgirls off the street to rape and kill them. While Uday is pure evil, with no conscience or morality, Latif is his opposite: a trapped man who keeps his dignity.

Complicating matters is the presence of Sarrab, Uday’s sultry sexpot lover (Ludivine Sagnier), who appears to take a liking to Latif. It’s only a matter of time before Latif and Sarrab become romantically involved, though it may come as a surprise to know that their steamy sexual encounter occurs as US bombs are falling on Baghdad.

One can surmise that director Lee Tamahori (Once We Were Warriors, Die Another Day) and screenwriter Michael Thomas (Scandal) have taken some liberties with the facts of history. But such decisions only enhance the diabolical fun of The Devil’s Double. When Latif and Sarrab become involved in a shoot-out, steal a Mercedes, and then, after running out of gas, flee Baghdad on horseback, the movie tilts a little too far into campy terrain. It’s hard to keep a straight face when Sarrab says, “That night, we rode like the wind!” Sagnier mugs sexily enough throughout the film, but no amount of writhing can make the movie’s love story credible.

The film’s more fascinating relationship is between Uday and Latif, with Dominic Cooper pulling off the dual roles admirably. As Uday, his teeth slightly protruding, he’s a frenetic, giggling, high-pitched monster with a short fuse, who feels compelled to keep his newfound “brother” by his side. As Latif, he’s the honorable, stone-faced hero, cool as ice, waiting for the right moment to strike back. The special effects are first-rate, successfully sustaining the illusion of two distinct people on screen.

Production values, overall, are also top-notch, showing off the Hussein family’s gaudy playgrounds, palaces and pools in glossy Hollywood fashion.

Production companies: Corsan, Corrino, Staaccato, Tulchin Entertinment

International sales: Corsan World Sales, www.corsanworldsales.com

Producers: Paul Breuls, Michel John Fedun, Emjay Rechsteiner, Catherine Vandeleene

Executive producers: Harris Tulchin, Arjen Terpstra

Screenplay: Michael Thomas

Cinematography: Sam McCurdy

Production designer: Paul Kirby

Editor: Luis Carballar

Music: Christian Henson

Website: www.thedevilsdouble.com

Main cast: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Ravi, Philip Quast