In Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Farley Granger delivers a hopelessly wooden performance as the good guy. And that’s fine, because as the bad guy Robert Walker oozes enough charisma for the both of them. A similar dynamic occurs in The Devil’s Double; thing is, both performances are by the same actor. A Brit believably passing for Middle Eastern, Dominic Cooper (The History Boys, Mamma Mia!) embodies both Uday Hussein, the notoriously psychotic scion of Saddam, and Latif, a lowly lieutenant forced to act as his body double.
But this isn’t David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, in which it took a couple seconds to identify which of the two Jeremy Ironses was which. You will always know who’s Uday and who’s Latif, as one is a great, irredeemable movie baddie—part Caligula, part Scarface, part Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death, complete with demonic giggle—and the other is, to put it lightly, pretty fucking boring.
How evil was Saddam Hussein’s son? His own father—again, Saddam Hussein—told him to his face he wished he had killed him at birth. The world’s worst trust fund kid, Uday is a speedwalker with buckteeth and a tiny dick who regular honks up piles of coke in one foul swoop, rants about his pet peeves—in order: “Jews, horseflies and Persians”—and cruises around town for schoolgirls. He’s so horrific/magnetic that screenwriter Michael Thomas never bothers giving his co-protagonist a personality, and Cooper cooperates by delivering only one performance, doing little as Latif but looking pissed or disapproving of his employer.
Apart from a generic need to flee and the occasional enjoyment of his newfound luxury—lusting over Ludivine Sagnier’s resident sex kitten, say—Latif has no character arc to speak of. But then, neither does Uday, whose excesses are treated as pitch black comedy, except when they aren’t: The film occasionally pauses the lurid fun to brood over the gory deaths of women he’s raped. (Such anguish doesn’t extend to a prickly general he angrily disembowels; note the Troma-worthy insert shot of his spilling guts.) Lacking an angle to give some shape to the madness, The Devil’s Double succeeds only in making Uday’s parade of barbarity monotonous.