Wednesday, 5 September 2012
Having recently read a guide book aimed at dictators, the time was ripe for me to pay a visit to Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film, The Dictator. Following on the footsteps of Borat and Bruno, this is the first of the Baron Cohen genre that is not a direct descendant of an Ali G character; and while still uniquely a Baron Cohen film, The Dictator is much more conventional film like in structure than its predecessors and much less of a reality show.
This time around our Baron Cohen portrays the role of Aladeen, the ruthless dictator of a fictitious country in Africa. Aladeen is the worst of his kind: he develops nuclear weapons for the sole purpose of erasing Israel, he orders his top scientist dead for daring to produce a nuclear missile with a round head instead of a fear inducing pointy one, and he has an armada of celebrities that have sex with him on call in return for a Rolex or two (including Megan Fox in the role of Megan Fox). Aided by a brother (Ben Kingsley) that should have been the ruler but for some reason isn’t, the only principle our Aladeen follows is closing his country to foreign oil companies.
The threat of an attack called on his nuclear facilities has Aladeen venturing to New York, where he is supposed to present his agenda to the UN. Alas, Aladeen is attacked by a rogue agent (the ever excellent comedian John C. Reilly). While he makes it out alive, he loses his identity and his trademark beard in the process. Rescue comes from a hippie green New Yorker woman who doesn’t identify him for the evil dictator he is (Anna Faris), but Aladeen is forced to watch as his former empire is about to be turned into a democracy by his brother. Over his dead body!
The Dictator checks all the boxes in the gross humor department that a Sacha Baron Cohen film needs to comply with: sexism, racism, the lot. The only box it doesn’t tick is the cringe one: The Dictator is surprisingly poor there, which – in my book – makes it by far the best Baron Cohen movie around. It has the extremely non PC jokes to fire the engines with, but behind the jokes lies pointy criticism at our society. We only laugh at the jokes that compare females to trash because that’s what our modern democratic society often does, and we only laugh at the racist jokes because there is so much racism in our societies already.
The Dictator features a very Cinderella like structure, a soundtrack of Western pop music sung in Arabic, the usual cases of Baron Cohen using Hebrew/Israeli phrases in his speech (to replace the English vocabulary for sex organs, for example), and various jokes featuring unnaturally large breasts. Between all these weird elements lies a very smart gem of a film.
Our Aladeen gives a speech to the world in which he asks what is so bad about dictatorships. If America was a dictatorship, says Aladeen, then one percent of the population would have all the wealth, the rich could cut their own taxes down, they could get bailed when their gambles fail, phones can be tapped, foreign prisoners tortured, elections rigged, prisons can be filled with one particular demographic, the media gets controlled by one person and his family, and the population can be pushed to be in favor of policies that contradict its direct interests.
What can I say? By far the best worded criticism of the USA I have ever read.
Notable scene: Aladeen gets arrested for plotting a terrorist attack on New York from the air while, in fact, holding a chat in Hebrew.
Best joke: Aladeen pays for an extravagant hotel suite but gets repeatedly annoyed at the $20 charge for the Internet. How very true!
Overall: Highly recommended for its cleverness. And the jokes. 3.5 out of 5 stars.