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Film Review: “The Devil’s Double”

Written by: FFT Webmaster | August 16th, 2011

Savagely portrayed by Cooper and heir to Al Pacino’s SCARFACE. It does not exaggerate; in fact, Uday Hussein was an out-of-control, hands-on monster far more savage than depicted.

Uday Hussein (Dominic Cooper) wants a body double. His father, Saddam Hussein, has quite a few. All powerful dictators have them! Why not a dictator’s hated son? This is the story of Latif Yahia (also played by Dominic Cooper), who was surgically transformed – against his will – into Uday’s body double.

Latif Yahia (with Karl Wendl) wrote a book, “I Was Saddam’s Son.” Screenwriter Michael Thomas liberally selects from Yahia’s memoir (or, as IMDb categorizes it, his “novel”)(1).

The film takes unnecessary creative license in placing Yahia at the center of the life-altering assassination attempt on Uday’s life.

While Cooper’s portrayal seems cartoonish, it is not. That weird grin is authentic Uday. THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE does not exaggerate; in fact, Uday was an out-of-control, hands-on monster far more savage than depicted.

Dominic Cooper in THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE

In the May 2003 issue of Vanity Fair, there was an article called “Baghdad’s Cruel Princes” by David Rose. Luckily, I saved the article. Rose interviewed several of Uday’s former intimates who finally defected.

He had permission to be a psychopath.

Rose describes Uday as “a sadistic megalomaniac”. Qusay, Uday’s two-years younger brother, as “a ruthless schemer.”

When Yahia refuses to become Uday’s body double he is beaten and then imprisoned.(2)

According to the defectors who spoke to Rose, Uday liked to – with religious, frantically rigor – inflict “falaqa”. The tools of “falaqa” were a wooden club and a heavy wooden beam, with plastic straps at either end. Uday used the club to beat “victims mercilessly: 20, 30, 50 times.”

The film shows Uday beat Yahia

In THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE, Uday has a primary girlfriend, Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), who he is in love with. Sarrab is openly flirty, and treats Uday with casual contempt. Sarrab does not appear to fear Uday at all and she even takes a liking to Yahia! According to the Rules of the House of Uday, Yahia is not even permitted to look at a girl Uday wants.

In reality, Uday married a relative who escaped after just 10 days. Who would dare be his semi-regular girlfriend?(3)

Ludivine Sagnier

Unfortunately, this “romance” nearly torpedoes the film. Sagnier (so terrific in THE SWIMMING POOL and MESRINE: KILLER INSTINCT) is amateurish and lacks the terrifying dimensions this character should have had. She’s also a lousy flirt.

The film does not shy away from Uday’s sexual proclivities, which were excessively cruel. His favorite hobby was deflowering virgins, especially young girls. In doing so, he ruined their lives forever according to Iraqi culture.(4)

Uday was a cocaine addict who, according to the film, also had a penchant for transsexuals and an “unnatural” love for his mother. He kills his father’s best friend for providing whores for his father. In reality, Uday blamed this man for introducing Saddam to his second wife which enraged his mother.

Dominic Cooper as Uday

We do not know what kind of childhood neglect or cruelty led to Uday’s aberrant psychology – maybe it’s just the “God Complex” of being allowed to end a life without consequence. Didn’t Alexander the Great kill Cleitus the Black, a close friend and the man who saved his life in battle, in an alcoholic rage? It was over a stupid remark.

THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE ends with Yahia running away from Uday with Sarrab. They have no luggage or money. Holding Yahai’s father hostage, Yahia returns to take an instrumental part in the assassination of Uday. Uday survives.

In reality, Uday became even more insane, but just how much madness could the film depict without becoming, not a character study, but a HOSTEL sequel?(5)

Cooper is terrific in both roles, even knowing that Uday has no redeeming qualities and comes off as a clown. But he’s a fascinating, can’t look away, clown. Cooper even suggests that Uday is in on the fact that he’s a fool, but can’t help it. It is a star making role for Cooper.  Coper has erased MAMMA MIA from his top-lined credits. Director Lee Tamahori provides a lush environment as a background and certainly indulges Uday.
(1) Yahia has been investigated by the British journalist Ed Caesar. In nine months, Caesar failed to uncover a single piece of evidence to support Yahia’s claims to have worked as a body double for Uday. Among many others, he spoke to Haytham Ajmaya, a former member of Uday’s inner circle, and Raad al-Sheikh, a private guard at Saddam’s presidential palace during the period in question. Both men categorically denied that Yahia had ever worked as a body double for Uday, or indeed that Uday had even used body doubles.

(2) Originally, when approached to be Uday’s double, Latif Yahia politely declined. “What? You don’t want to be the son of Saddam Hussein,” Uday screamed. Two bodyguards seized Latif and dragged him from the room. He was blindfolded and thrown into a car. Latif was locked inside a psycho-torture cell. The walls, floors and lights were bright red. The cell was too small to lie down in or stand up leaving him to squat. There was no toilet or even a bucket for waste and eventually Latif was forced to lie in his own filth.

After seven days Uday came by. “Latif. How are you? You’ve changed your mind haven’t you? I’ll sic my dogs on you and have your sisters raped if you refuse again.” Latif gave in and became Uday’s double in November of 1987.

(3) Rose reveals a story that belies the relationship we see on screen: “A girlfriend of Uday confessed to a shopkeeper: “He works out every day, he’s really strong, and he can’t fuck me unless he whips me. Imagine this: he beats me until he falls tired.””

4) Rose writes: “His difficulty in performing the sexual act appears only to have intensified his priapic urge to attempt it. Since his recovery in 1997 [from an assassination attempt where Uday was shot at 17 times, crippled for the rest of his life and – according to popular belief – rendered impotent], the defector says, Uday has developed an obsession with deflowering virgins: “He likes to see the blood on the sheets. And if he’s taken a girl’s virginity, he knows she may end up on the streets as a prostitute, because no one else will touch her. Hundreds have been affected this way. He likes joking about it with his friends. ‘Look at her, after this she’ll be a prostitute’. His taste in girls – some as young as 12 or 13 – spans Iraq’s class structure.’”

(5) Rose writes: “Uday, because of his “accident” liked see people with damaged or broken legs. He also liked to brand victims “on the buttocks with hot irons.” A defector said: “Waiters, girls-anyone who he considers has committed a minor crime. Uday tells them, ‘This mark is never going to go from your body, so you’ll remember me until the day you die.’”

Postscript: On July 22, 2003, Task Force 20 had a showdown with Uday, Qusay and Qusay’s 14-year-old son, on a raid on a home in Mosul. Uday had been the Ace of Hearts on the most-wanted Iraqi Playing cards. I have a set of the cards.

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