A lieutenant in the Iraqi Army, Latif Yahia was the spitting image of Saddam Hussein's younger son Uday, except for two things. Uday sported a pair of prominent buck teeth that made him look like Bugs Bunny. And he was completely insane.
That was extremely unfortunate for Yahia, who was coerced into become Uday's body double in the late '80s and early '90s, forced to stand by as Uday lived the life of a gangster playboy, partying and whoring and killing, given free rein to his darkest urges in his father's regime.
Yahia's story is told in Lee Tamahori's brutal, semi-fictionalized "The Devil's Double," which boasts a mesmerizing pair of performances from British actor Dominic Cooper ("An Education") in both lead roles. Cooper has to play the quivering psychopath Uday and the pained Yahia, and, at times, Yahia pretending to be Uday. But at every moment, we know exactly who we're looking at.
As the straight-arrow Yahia, Cooper has to downplay the decent soldier's horror at seeing Uday stuffing himself with booze and cocaine, cruising middle schools looking for girls, or brutally punishing anybody who dares disagree with him. And then, thanks to CGI, we see Cooper in the other half of the frame as the wild card Uday, with his high-pitched giggle, cutting a swath of wanton destruction through a path of innocent and terrified Iraqis without a second thought.
While the Husseins have an iron grip on the country, the fear of assassination has prompted Saddam and his family to hire body doubles to protect them. (In one wry scene, Yahia meets one of Saddam's doubles, but neither double is sure whether they're talking to the real thing or not.) Yahia is all but forced to take the job and surrender his identity, and his family is told that he died in battle. Uday seems to treat him alternately as a friend and a plaything, taking him along on his hard-partying bacchanalian adventures, which often ended with somebody dead or wounded by Uday's unstable temper.
Tamahori, perhaps too deliberately trying to break from his mainstream Hollywood career ("Mulholland Falls," the James Bond film "Die Another Day") turns his film into a chamber of horrors, a Middle Eastern "Scarface" where Saddam's palaces and Uday's swanky hotel suites conceal an absolute moral rot. Some of the cruelty in the film is hard to stomach, but frighteningly believable.
The visual effects in the film playing Cooper against Cooper are almost seamless; there was only one moment when I could tell that Cooper's head had been digitally inserted onto another actor's body. It makes for a very convincing pair of performances.
French actress Ludivigne Sagnier fares less well as Sarrab, one of Uday's many girlfriends, whom Yahia unwisely takes a liking to. And the film takes a third-act turn into thriller territory that seems pretty implausible, as Yahia becomes determined to take down Uday himself.
Uday was crippled in an assassination attempt, and later died in 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq. If you didn't cheer it when it happened, you will after seeing this film.