Lee Tamahori‘s The Devil’s Double (Lionsgate, 7.29) is an absorbing, professionally made, (mostly) true story by way of a visit to a Middle Eastern nouveau riche insane asylum. In his first lead role, Dominic Cooper portrays the homicidal and demonic Uday Hussein as well as his double, Latif Yahia. The film uses Yahia’s story (which is partly fictionalized) to create a portrait of evil and cruelty and madness extremis.

It played last night at the LA Film Festival. I saw it at Sundance ’11 and found it generally engrossing as far as it went. But any story about the malicious Uday — surely one of the most fiendish human beings to walk the earth — is going to create a longing to see him “get his” at the end. And he doesn’t. He just gets shot a few times in the groin area (which actually happened in 1996) but survives to murder and torture another day until finally getting killed by U.S. troops in 2003.

So The Devil’s Double doesn’t end well. There’s no sense of justice or completion.

At the Devil’s Double after-party Tamahori told me he wrote and wanted to film a finale depicting the deaths of Uday (and his somewhat saner brother Qusay) at the hands of Task Force 20 and the United States Army 101st Airborne Division on 7.22.03. But his producer said they couldn’t afford to shoot this scene and that was that. Too bad.

There’s also a weird turn involving Ludivine Sagnier‘s character, Sarab, who is the #1 Untouchable girlfriend of Uday who eventually bestows affections on Yahia. I won’t describe it but she does something in Act 3 that I found a bit quizzical and confusing.

Uday’s Wiki bio reports that Yahia “attended the same school as Uday when they were children (approximately age 12 onwards) and it is alleged that he was forcibly recruited and groomed as Uday’s double around the same time.” The film shows Yahia being forcibly recruited when both men are in their 20s. “It is also claimed that, as he grew older, Yahia underwent extensive plastic surgery to enhance his resemblance to Uday.” This also is shown in the film.

Cooper is really quite good in his dual role. He gets the panic and the ferocity and the obstinacy in both characters. But I suspect that Tamahori’s film isn’t going to be well-reviewed enough to launch Cooper as a contender for year-end acting awards