Big-screen cruelty has never looked quite as creepily sexy as it does in The Devil’s Double, the latest from New Zealand director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors). Shot in gorgeous hues, the film lights up the story of Saddam Hussein’s dirty rotten son Uday as he fucks and shoots his way through Iraq. Uday was legendary in Baghdad: being the son of the dictator meant he could do anything he wanted and get away with it. He took this as some kind of twisted challenge, doing his best to rape, torture, murder — basically, he was the entire Charles Manson Family rolled into one frat boy.
The film is seriously ingenious. It stars brilliant British actor Dominic Cooper in what is easily the greatest look-alike duo performance since Jeremy Irons played the good doctors in Dead Ringers. Wildly handsome, Cooper — who looks a bit like a cross between Ricky Martin and American political commentator Peter Beinart — plays both Uday and his double, Latif Yahia, a man who was hired because he looked so much like Uday, to stand in for the dictator’s son when the threat of assassination hung in the air. Well, “hired” might not be the word — Yahia is tortured for days and told that if he doesn’t agree to live in the palace and work for Uday, his family will be killed.
Yahia is then forced to look on in horror as Uday does his damage. On what appears to be the biggest cocaine-infused trip since Al Pacino snorted his way through Scarface, Uday rapes various women and barely pubescent girls (a word of warning: some of these scenes are really disturbing). He shoots up parties, commands everyone to take off all their clothes at one of his birthday bashes, drives around the marketplace to pick up schoolgirls, all the while loving every second of it.
There’s no shortage of kink amid the designer clothes and flashy cars. Uday has a fetish for high-priced hookers, pays for one trans hooker’s implants and indulges in sex with a man. There’s also the strong suggestion that he had an incestuous relationship with his mother. Indeed, Uday is so odious that he even puts off Saddam. One memorable scene has Poppa slapping his son as the younger Hussein recovers from an overdose.
There’s also a bit of homoerotic tension between Uday and his doppelgänger. Even after Yahia tries to escape a couple of times, Uday is reluctant to kill him, as he’s such a narcissist he seems to be slightly in love with the man who looks so much like him. At one point, when they’re in the shower together, Uday marvels at Yahia’s (bigger) cock. Uday looks at Yahia with pleasure, but also with desire.
The Devil’s Double is a stunningly shot film, wondrous to behold, but also a bit exhausting in its extremes. It’s pretty horrifying to consider that much of the Middle East is still run by dictators cut from the same cloth, and, given the current carnage in Syria (to take just one example), the disregard for human life is pretty shocking. Part melodrama, part suspense film (will Yahia be able to escape?), part house of horrors, The Devil’s Double is a wicked, if deeply troubling, film.
The Devil’s Double is now playing in Toronto and opens Friday, Aug 12 in Montreal.