Dominic Cooper is electrifying yet stiff in The Devil’s Double; he’s simultaneously the film’s biggest asset and its greatest flaw. As second-generation madman and real-life lunatic Uday Hussein, Cooper has some of the raw, live-wire energy of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. But as a good, stoic man forced into a lushly horrible life as Uday’s pampered, terrorized double, Cooper comes off as bland and indistinct. Sure, the double is a better person than the butcher he’s impersonating—that’s setting the bar awfully low—but he’s also much less compelling.
The Devil’s Double casts Cooper in a challenging dual role as the son of a reviled dictator and the commoner recruited to impersonate him and generally serve as his sidekick/friend/foil, in spite of his pronounced contempt for his employer. In his non-Uday incarnation, Cooper never seems to enjoy the sex, drugs, and grotesque wealth thrust at him from every corner, but as the corpses pile up and Uday’s playboy ways increasingly center on sexually violating and killing underage girls, the double’s already-shaken conscience tells him it’s time to get out while he still can.
The Devil’s Double gives Uday a slight overbite that lends an incongruously chipmunk-like quality to his appearance. With his demented cackle, nonexistent moral code, lack of an internal filter, and bottomless appetite for sex, drugs, and money, he comes off as an unhinged killer clown, an overgrown brat given free rein to run amok over an entire country. It’s a performance so flashy and attention-grabbing that Ludivine Sagnier, in full-on sexpot mode, has to make love to the camera just to make a modest impression as the woman of easy virtue the various Coopers share. Is it any wonder the film’s ostensible hero registers about as strongly with audiences as an extra during James Brown’s climactic performance in The T.A.M.I. Show? The villain completely upstages the hero here, but Cooper has only himself to blame.