Every year at Sundance there are a handful of films that I simply cannot fit into my schedule, films that end up receiving a great amount of hype. This year, 'The Devil's Double' was one of them.
For a small indie flick, 'The Devil's Double' is of particularly high quality both filmmaking and storytelling wise. 'The Devil's Double' tells the real life story of Latif Yahia, a soldier in the Iraqi Guard who was pulled from the frontline of the Iraq-Iran War and forced to act as a body double for Saddam Hussein's psychopathic, unpredictable sexual deviant first son Uday Hussein. Latif was good man and wanted nothing to do with Uday, but how can you turn down a lunatic's job offer when he threatens the life of your family?
Latif had no choice but to go along with it. He had the plastic surgery, wore the false teeth, played the crazy part and did the grunt work that Uday didn't want to do himself. As time passed, Latif saw Uday fly off the handle more and more frequently. He felt it was only time before Uday grew tired of him and killed him for knowing too much.
Although based on real experiences, 'The Devil's Double' is told like a gangster film - drugs, money, sex and gritty violence; after all, the Hussein family was basically like the Corleone family from 'The Godfather.'
Dominic Cooper plays a double role as both Latif and Uday, which is truly impressive given their polar opposites. Not only does he convincingly play both ends of the emotional spectrum, but he completely alters his physically for each. There are times when you're almost certain that Cooper is not playing both roles because of how different they are physically, but he perfectly pulls it off. Had Cooper not been up to the task and capable of changing his face and demeanor rapidly, 'The Devil's Double' wouldn't have worked in the slightest.
But amidst the fantastic acting and directing, 'The Devil's Double' falls victim to a mild screenplay. While we get plenty of Uday's character development, we almost get nothing of Latif's. We know that he was in the Iraqi Guard and that he came from a good home and a great family - but that's it. We occasionally get to see physically and outwardly how torn he is by this moral dilemma, but the internal conflict is never shown to us. Instead of engulfing viewers in Latif's intimate personal story, we only see the outward projections of it.
For fantastic performances and a truly intriguing look into the Hussein family's insane lifestyle and mindset, check out 'The Devil's Double.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has placed 'The Devil's Double' on BD-50 in an eco-friendly blue keepcase with a cardboard slipcase that's identical to the cover art. Upon inserting the disc, it triggers an instant firmware update finder before showing you a commentary disclaimer, a slew of trailers for other Lionsgate films (which are also accessible from the menu) and an ad for EPIX video service - all of which are skippable.
'The Devil's Double' hits Blu-ray with a pristine 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in a wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio - one so breathtakingly crisp that you'd never believe it was such a small indie film.
The movie opens with aged news footage from the wars of the '80s in the Middle East. This graphic content is shown in the poor quality broadcasts of the time. As it suddenly clicks over to the new filmed footage, seeing the two video comparisons back-to-back is astonishing. How did we ever watch such terrible eye-scouring quality primetime video? The new footage is sharp and highly detailed with brilliant clarity. It looks better than if you were seeing the actual events with your own eyes. 'The Devil's Double' features one of the cleanest picture qualities I've seen on Blu-ray.
When Latif slips into flashbacks of life on the frontline of war, we see a brief glimpse of a mortar attack. As he and a fellow fighter run through the shelling, we see individual rocks and bits of debris as they soar past the heads of the soldiers. Occasional lens flares are so sharp that they feature defined edges.
Because of the gold-filled life of this criminal playboy, the film features a mostly golden hue. A few times, the filter used to create this look washes out fine details like pores and lines on a face - but this doesn't happen too often. At the time, Iraq was in a phase comparable to the '80s in the U.S., so the color palate is wide, bright and vibrant. Deeply saturated colors appear frequently in the wild club parties. Aside from a few scenes with the composition effects of replicating Cooper's body don't match the original shot, black are defined and deep. The black silhouette of Baghdad in the early hours of the morning is vivid compared to the colorful sunrise behind it. 'The Devil's Double' feature mild grain, but is 100 percent noise-free.
Contrast is played with throughout the film. During interrogations, the blacks hide whatever lies within the shadows. The lamp light is bold and overpowering. Conveying that desert feel, contrast is blasted in the other direction for outdoor shots. The sky appears white, not blue. Whites and reflective surfaces bouncing sunlight are bright and blown out. The filmmakers behind 'The Devil's Double' perfectly toyed with their tools to create a constant environment and mood.
The only problems that arise are slight aliasing, seen in the grille of a speeding car within the first five minutes of the film, and an occasional lack of depth. A composite scenes that feature Uday and Latif in the same shot appear two-dimensional.
'The Devil's Double' offers only one audio track - 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Although not used as strongly as other 7.1 tracks, it's subtly used to transform your theater to that same Middle Eastern environment that the video quality brings to life. Together, they're brilliant.
The only times the audio track is used in the traditional sense - sounds popping up from all over the room - is during the shootouts and wartime flashbacks. Bullet shots and gunfire with ring out and ricochet across your theater. Mortars will land all around you. And the sound of falling dirt and debris with pitter patter across the room. But more than this, the audio is used to create an ambiance. Footsteps across a marble floor. Hangars rattling in a wardrobe closet. Horses hoofs thumping away to into the distance. It's not all razzle-dazzle, it's mood enhancing.
The only real problem stems from a few rare occurrences of center channel vocals sounding a bit scratchy on the high end - as if the vocal track was turned up too high, resulting in some slight distortion. Aside from that, the audio quality is suitable fitting.
With a story that never quite meets its potential (probably due to it being based on actual events), 'The Devil's Double' is intriguing, but never as entertaining as it could have been. Dominic Cooper shines in his dual role, and the video and audio qualities are fantastic, but it lacks the emotional connection found in great films. Worth a look for the curious.