The Filmtastic Films series at the Qwanlin Cinema winds up this week with The Devil’s Double, a thoroughly violent and often horrifying film that will turn many viewers off, but which features a performance by British actor Dominic Cooper that is truly riveting.
Cooper plays Uday Hussein, the son of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was killed by American Special Forces troops in 2003 along with his younger brother.
Uday was a true monster, a sex-crazed, sadistic killer whose death was widely and justifiably cheered by Iraqis.
Based on true events, The Devil’s Double tells the story of how an Iraqi army lieutenant fighting at the front in the Iran-Iraq war of the ’80s was plucked from the battlefield, summoned to the presidential palace in Baghdad, and ordered to become a body double for the murderous Uday.
With the aid of special effects and superb talent, Cooper plays both Saddam Hussein’s son and the role of Latif Yahia, the man who was forced to impersonate him.
The son of a wealthy businessman, Yahia first crossed paths with Uday in 1979, when they were both at the elite Baghdad High School for Boys, and classmates noted a strong resemblance between the two.
Uday would bring his girlfriends into class with him and defiantly park his Porsche in the middle of the school’s basketball court.
When a teacher finally got up the nerve to reprimand Uday for bringing girls into the all-boys’ school, Yahia says in an interview with Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, the teacher was never seen again.
Their next encounter came in 1987, when the Iraq secret service brought Yahia before Uday at the palace. Yahia was given 10 minutes to consider whether he would fill in for the dictator’s dissolute son at public appearances, where he would quite likely be subjected to assassination attempts.
Acutely aware of the risks involved, he refused, but reconsidered after a week. During that week, Yahia was imprisoned and tortured, and death threats were made against his family.
They had been told that he was missing in action, and he was cautioned that getting in touch with them would mean his instant death. Faced with no other choice, Yahia agreed.
For the next five years, he literally became Uday, witnessing all manner of rapes, addiction and sexual excesses on the part of his sadistic playboy alter ego. Enforced plastic surgery and dental work gave the final touches to the impersonation.
New Zealand director Lee Tamahori, whose 1994 depiction of violent family life among the island’s Maori urban dwellers, Once Were Warriors, made such an impact in 1994, delivers a powerful and highly-charged portrayal of the excesses of Saddam’s Iraq in The Devil’s Double.
Dominic Cooper most recently appeared in Captain America, where he played Howard Stark, the ruthless businessman, father of Iron Man, and creator of the US Army’s Super Soldier Program.
The Devil’s Double plays at the Qwanlin Cinema Centre Sunday, October 23 at 5 pm, and at 7 pm on Monday. It’s rated R for drug use, violence and graphic nudity and sex.
Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.