Sacha Baron Cohen has made a career out of characters who challenge people’s perceptions. Ali G, Borat and Bruno all exposed the prejudices of politicians, TV personalities and ordinary Joe Public; here, in The Dictator, Baron Cohen brings us General Aladeen, an African tyrant who again sets to ridicule stereotypes and perceptions. The problem here is that in the scripted format that Cohen adopts it is harder to see whether the creator is exposing other people’s prejudices or laying his own bare.
The Dictator sees Aladeen, as stereotypical a dictator as you can imagine, a Frankenstein’s monster of Kim Jong-Il, Saddam Hussain, Idi Amin and most clearly Colonel Gaddafi, invited to America to defend his actions to the UN. After arriving he is quickly kidnapped by a CIA operative, shorn of his signature beard and left to fend for himself in NYC.
Here we get into typical territory for SBC, he plays up to prejudices, mainly targeted at his newly found friend, vegan, ethical food store owner Zoey, played intelligently by Anna Faris. Faris is one of the most accomplished comedy actors of her generation and she works superbly against Cohen’s performance. The developing love story between these two is handled with a lack of subtlety and is largely irrelevant and unnecessary to the plot, there was a lot more mileage in these two learning from each other than becoming intimate. The lines between the two lead characters and individually from Cohen are funny and at times shocking, but what sets this apart is the fact that it is the script that brings the offensive and shocking lines not the responses of real people.
Under the direction of Larry Charles the action moves along at a fast pace and the subplot of the Dictator’s team trying to usurp his reign with a doppleganger is well handled in the hands of the director and Sir Ben Kingsley as Aladeen’s aide Tamir. It is a testament to the success of Baron Cohen that he is able to attract such big names to his movie. This is also evident in the many cameos throughout the movie, notably Megan Fox and John C. Reilly.
What is disappointing with the movie is that away from the main characters the supporting cast are broadly drawn and broadly drawn with a pretty offensive brush. Cultural stereotypes are exploited throughout the scenes in the UN and the laziness in the writing becomes at first obvious and secondly tiresome. It feels as if SBC has written and created a strong character in Aladeen, but that the script that the character has been forced into belies the effort put into creating the central character.
The Dictator has funny moments and the lead character is well drawn and demonstrates SBC’s ability to be incisively satirical, it is let down however by a screenplay that fails to put his character into a believable world.
- With ‘The Dictator,’ is Sacha Baron Cohen’s act getting old? – Boston.com (blog) (boston.com)
- Sacha Baron Cohen: UN was scared of my ‘dictator’ (independent.co.uk)
- The Dictator [CTC] (flickchick1909.wordpress.com)
- The Dictator, aka Sacha Baron Cohen, surrounded by a bevy of beauties (and a camel) in Cannes (thisislondon.co.uk)