Movies where actors play their own twin tend to be excruciating exercises in vanity, as the actor tries desperately set each character apart in subtle ways, but when it comes to Dominic Cooper as both Uday Hussein and his body double Latif Yahia in The Devil’s Double, subtlety isn’t called for: Balls-to-the-wall bravado is.
That’s because Uday, the son of Saddam, was a maniac who, according to one friend, “has always wanted to fuck himself.” So he hires an old school chum, Latif, to shadow him, including surgery to perfect his appearance, making Latif the target should any assassins choose to come after him. But there’s also a narcissistic personality at work; Uday seems obsessed with Latif as an object of admiration — a living self-portrait on which he can project his twisted, sociopathic tendencies.
The theme his hit home since Cooper is frequently naked throughout the film, providing a certain homoeroticism that the film gloriously feeds on. This is a wild retelling of the life of an historic-on-the-fringe figure, who runs around with drag queens and talks about Latif’s penis size and insists his guests (male and female) strip naked far more often than a straight guy should.
The style, a combination of Scarface, Blow, Casino and The Last King of Scotland, proves to be a showcase for the talents of Cooper, who appears destined for an Oscar nomination for his captivatingly complex and layered performance. It’s never difficult to tell when he’s Latif and when he’s Uday — and it’s not just the fake teeth. “One, he’s sober and two, he’s not foaming at the mouth,” Uday’s brother, Qusay, says in describing their differences. Cooper captures Uday’s mania in his eyes, his stance, his inherent instability, then reverses those qualities as Latif. It’s a star-making role in a brutal and deliciously overwrought story of madness and power — one of the best films of the summer.