Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Devil’s Double

Dual roles must be as thrilling as they are haunting for an actor.  It’s never an easy task, one that teeters a delicate balance between brilliance (Eddie Murphy, Coming to America; The Nutty Professor), and ridiculousness (Eddie Murphy, everything else). Basically, if the actor can pull it off, the dual role does wonders, but if they push too far, the entire film is ruined.

The best that comes to mind recently is Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Adaptation.  But, let’s be honest, Peter Sellers more than owns the dual role crown for his (several) flawless performances in Dr. Strangelove

Feel free to add Dominic Cooper’s performance in The Devil’s Double among the best dual roles there have been.  The movie, sadly, belongs on a completely separate list.

The Devil’s Double tells the true story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier who was recruited (more like forced) by Saddam Hussein’s batshit crazy son, Uday, to act as his body double.  Latif is plucked from his regular life, tortured into the job, given corrective facial surgery, a new set of clothes, whores; the works.  Latif – cool, calm and calculated – isn’t at all enthusiastic about the job, but he doesn’t have a choice.

While on duty, Latif not only stands in for Uday, giving speeches or greeting war-pressed Iraqis, he witnesses countless acts of brutality at the hands of a trigger happy psycho.

Now, here is that delicate balance I mentioned early.  Latif and Uday couldn’t be more different.  Everything Uday does is done with flourished exaggeration.  The way he speaks, the way he shoots, the way he smokes cigars, the way he smashes bottles, the way he gets his women; it’s all hyperbolic in execution, but utterly convincing.  Equally compelling is Cooper’s depiction of Latif, who, even while sitting idly in the back of a room, always looks as if he’s two steps ahead.

The Devil’s Double can be summed up rather easily: without Dominic Cooper, the movie would not only be a failure, it’d be a complete waste of time.  With its drowned-out lighting, tone-dependent photography, weak script and aimless direction, The Devil’s Double is a limp film anchored by a flawless lead performance.

As the film progresses, we are privy to a few of the horrendous acts Uday deems necessary for pleasure.  There’s the (mostly unseen) rape of a 14-year-old; the (completely seen) finger slashing, intestine spilling death of a close friend; the (mostly unseen) rape of a bride still in her wedding gown; the Tony Montana sized cocaine consumption; it’s all just too much, at least for the film’s 108 minutes.

It isn’t until the end that director Lee Tamahori (The Edge, Die Another Day) trusts the audience enough to know that we get it.  We don’t need to see everything single act of gruesome physical and/or sexual violence committed by Uday.  Cooper’s performance is convincing enough, and it deserves to be ranked among Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life) and Demián Bichir (A Better Life) as the best male performance so far this year.

Too bad Cooper didn’t yet have more clout as an actor, enough to advise Tamahori to tone it down a little.  No matter, after this performance, clout will be coming Cooper’s way involuntarily. Dominic Cooper: A+, the film: C-