The Devil’s Double: nowhere near as exciting as its poster

Friday July 29th 2011

Surely I can’t have been alone in assuming from the picture above that The Devil’s Double was some kind of Danny Dyer East End Scarface Romp? When the press screening finally rolled around I went fully expecting to see Dominic Cooper flexing his cockney-barra-boy, ows-ya-fartha routine.

Sadly that’s not the role expected of him this time, but neither is he reprising his well-worn lothario schtick. Instead, he’s jumping in at the deep end of the antagonist pool and playing psychopathic son of Saddam, Uday Hussein. I for one didn’t see it coming: of all the parts I’ve ever envisaged Dominic Cooper in (your mum’s parts for example — schwing!), Uday Hussein wasn’t even in the Top 5. (He was at number six.)

The big selling point here is that D-Coops plays not only Uday but also his body double Latif Yahia, who was required to fulfil duties that the heir apparent considered himself too good for. It’s really no wonder Cooper got the part: he’s been doing the same thing for James McAvoy since 2008.

Both roles are clearly designed to launch Dominic Cooper as a Serious Actor, leaving behind his post-Mamma Mia typecasting once and for all. And there’s no denying that he’s invested a decent amount of time in developing the performances. But while his Uday is feverish, volatile and genuinely menacing (despite having the voice of the anthropomorphic meerkat from the Compare the Market ads), Latif is a markedly hollow protagonist, devoid of anything in the way of personal conflict. You’d be forgiven for assuming that at some point in the middle of the film he starts to buy into the luxury and power of Uday’s lifestyle and becomes the very thing that he hates the most. I mean, you couldn’t ask for a much more literal application of the whole ‘fame is a mask that eats into the face’ thing. But no, Latif keeps on being the blameless victim of circumstance and the audience keep on not giving a shit.

Because this is a ‘politically aware’ thriller, Latif’s non-struggle is backed by plenty of news footage of the Gulf War soundtracked by incongruous rock music to remind us of the perversity of war etc etc etc, not to mention shots of Uday burning money or wiping his bum with jewels or whatever, just in case you’ve managed to forget that he’s a bad, bad man.

This continues on for the best part of two hours with the closest thing to a dramatic arc being Latif’s affair with one of Uday’s girlfriends (brilliantly foreshadowed by at least 7 or 8 scenes early on in the movie in which people tell him that THE ONLY THING HE CAN’T DO IS SLEEP WITH UDAY’S GIRLFRIEND. THAT IS THE ONLY ONE THING. ANYTHING ELSE IS FINE BUT DO NOT DO THAT PARTICULAR THING).

If this is all sounding a little familiar, that’s because The Last King of Scotland already did it, and with considerably more success. All the key narrative elements of that film are present and correct here (the psychotic tyrant, the naive but ethical protagonist, the occasional splashes of extreme gore) but gone are the sharp script and taut direction that tied it all together, leaving us with nothing more than a tedious exercise in obsessively black and white storytelling.

My heart goes out to Dominic Cooper: McAvoy’s had the last laugh again.