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In the later days of the Iraq-Iran War a solider named Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) is hand picked by Iraqi enfant terrible Uday Hussein (also played by Cooper) as a fedai – a body double meant to take the bullets of political assassins. Latif initially refuses the ‘offer’ and is jailed and tortured for his insolence. Afraid that the playboy son of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein (Philip Quast) will murder his family, Latif reluctantly agrees to Uday’s terms. Uday takes Latif under his wing, and shows him a good time in the sex and drug fueled Iraqi club scene, but Latif is not amused as he witnesses first hand Uday’s sadistic and psychopath habits.

Devil's Double, The
Director Lee Tamahori began his career in a great place. A native New Zealander, Tamahori worked as an assistant director on Craig Harrison’s vastly underrated The Quiet Earth before breaking out with his lead directorial debut, Once Were Warriors, a grim look at the urban  Maori lifestyle. From there his career slowly trickled downward with relatively faceless Hollywood thrillers like Mulholland Falls and The Edge. Following his work on Die Another Day, one of the two or three worst James Bond films ever made, and an entirely mediocre sequel to the already mediocre XXX ( XXX: State of the Union), Tamahori dropped off most radars. It was time for a comeback. Original, exciting concept? Check. Energetic, evocative trailer? Check. Flashy, undeniably cool poster art? Check and check. Good movie? Crap, we were so close…

For his part Tamahori is sure to infuse The Devil’s Double with an excess of style, and at the very least this is a particularly good-looking film. His images are crisp and colourful, he revels in the slick production design, and cleverly includes the late-‘80s, early-‘90s style in his otherwise modern images. The storytelling is occasionally rocky, and his pacing takes some pretty big dips, but there were choices made, and obvious thought behind these choices. For his part Dominic Cooper, who likely welcomed the excuse to break away from his approaching rut of pretty romantic leads, takes obvious pleasure in the dual role, and was clearly still channeling a bit of Uday Hussein when he appeared as Howard Stark in Captain America. Uday and Latif are definitively different characters, and they’re both compelling in their own way. Of course it would be preferable to see the role filled by an actual Iraqi (or at least an Arab), and the British accent breaks through a little more than I’d prefer, but Cooper effectively shoulders the majority of the film without letting the technical terms of the performance get in his way. I don’t think I stopped to think about the special effects behind the scenes where Cooper interacts with himself more than maybe twice (there’s one shot during the Uday whipping Latif scene where the effects are pretty obvious). Philip Quast and Ludivine Sagnier are also standouts in terms of action, and both create a heavy influence over the film with only minutes of screen time between them. Quast’s Saddam Hussein is brilliantly restrained, making him all the more frightening, which is impressive considering how low the real Hussein’s boogieman status dropped following his death.

Devil's Double, The
It’s hard to pinpoint precisely what doesn’t go right here, but unfortunately a lot of The Devil’s Double doesn’t work beyond its slick images and Cooper’s performance. There’s controversy in the material, but not really in the execution, which is pretty trashy and apolitical. I don’t see this as a problem in and of itself, especially since Tamahori is clearly using Scarface (a trashy film) as an inspiration, but did find the treatment slightly comical when unintended, and found huge problems with dramatic weight throughout the film. Without ever really dulling the violence (though I kind of wish there was more violence) Tamahori loses much of the threat thanks to the extreme style, and despite Cooper’s strong performance(s), there’s not a lot of emotional heft in the film either. Uday is often more of a clown than a monster, even when he’s graphically gutting people, Latif is more melancholic than tragic, and Latif’s relationship with Sarrab is about as romantically involving as the average hip-hop music video, and about as believable as one too (this is partially the point, but it damages the third act quite a bit). I understand I should be roused when Latif defies Uday, thrilled as he escapes a hit by the skin of his teeth, and horrified by certain twists in the plot (many of twists I did not see coming), but I just couldn’t manage any of it.

Devil's Double, The

Video


The Devil’s Double is a hyper-stylish film, and it’s shot using the hyper-high-end Red One digital HD cameras. The basic look, if the trailers and poster hadn’t tipped you off already, is gold, with green and red highlights. Occasionally you’ll notice blue as well. So Jean-Pierre Jeunet meets every movie you’ve seen that takes place in the Middle East since Three Kings. It’s not a unique look, but it’s a pretty one, and these cameras capture it quite well. There’s a beautiful, unnatural purity in these 1080p hues, as if the film stock itself (of which there isn’t any) had been coloured by hand, and the pop created between the base gold and the other hues is top end, without any particularly noticeable blocking effects even on the richest reds. The details are extremely sharp in varying contexts, from extreme close-up textures (just look at those loud print shirts), to wide-angle shots of complexly decorated mansions and full streets. Tamahori and cinematographer Sam McCurdy revel in high contrast, and purposefully blowout the highlights coming from any light source. This makes for some pretty extreme black and white levels (some scenes have almost nothing in the way midtones), yet there are no real issues with edge haloes. Darker scenes feature clean and soft blends (the kind the Red One cameras do so well) without banding effects, and even the grimier, blue-tinted scenes feature very little in terms of digital noise.

Audio


Stylish images often come with stylish audio mixes these days, and this DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is plenty stylish. There aren’t many overt directional effects, but there’s still a lot of effective dynamic juxtaposition, and plenty of natural and realistic ambient noise throughout every channel. Gunshots are a commonly aggressive element, and the sound of outside warfare creates an effective atmosphere during key scenes without overwhelming them. There are some problems with volume levels in the center channel. I found that the dialogue was lost in some of the quietest scenes, and was greeted by an uncomfortable blast of sound when the music kicked up the next scene (where strangely the dialogue was mixed loudly enough to hear over the music). Christian Henson’s Middle Eastern infused score features heavily throughout the channels creating an effectively wide spread, and a nice sense of two walls of music on either side of the viewing position. The appropriated club score scenes are brimming with heavy bass and effective echo placement.

Devil's Double, The

Extras


The extras begin with director Lee Tamahori’s solo commentary track. Tamahori is a well-spoken guy, with an easy on the ears Kiwi accent, and he’s more or less down to earth in terms of facts. He starts things rather seriously, but slowly becomes a little more comfortable, and is able to show off a bit of a sense of humor. Not surprisingly there’s a lot of focus on the look of the film and the special effects, but there’s also plenty of talk about working on a moderate budget, and tonal and stylistic inspirations (i.e.: gangster movies). The best bits are mentions of deleted and altered scenes, mentions of true story vs. movie version, and talk of image subtext. I appreciate parts of the film more from understanding his intensions a little better, especially considering how much effort he put into avoiding clichés. I also understand that the original script may be the film’s biggest problem based only on the few things Tamahori mentions he changed. Things fall apart a bit when the director starts narrating the on-screen actions, but he does a pretty good job about staying focused, despite flecks of blank space over the entire track.

True Crime Family (16:10, HD) is a general EPK style featurette covering the reality of the situation, and the film’s version of the story, along with its general production. It includes interviews with actors Dominic Cooper, Dar Salem, Pano Masti and Ludivine Sagnier, Middle East Military Program Director Dr. Russell A Burgos, producer Michael John Fedun, director Lee Tamahori, costume designer Anna B. Sheppard, production designer Paul Kirby and writer Michael Thomas, and includes some behind the scenes footage and pertinent era photos. Double Down with Dominic Cooper (8:50, HD) features the cast and crew, including make-up designer Jan Sewell discussing Cooper’s dual performance, and the make-up and effects processes behind his transformation. The Real Devil’s Double (7:40, HD) is an all too short interview with the real Latif Yahia. The extras come to an end with trailers for other Lionsgate releases.

Devil's Double, The

Overall


The Devil’s Double doesn’t require pomp and circumstance, and director Lee Tamahori’s visuals are appealing, but such a unique concept could’ve made for a genuinely great film, rather than a generally entertaining one. I still think it’s worth seeing for the curious, especially the curious that enjoy gangster movies, but no one should go in expecting a Breaking Bad type genre redefinition. This Blu-ray release looks great thanks in part to a heavily saturated look, sounds good, and features a decent selection of extras that end too quickly.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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