Saturday, May 26, 2012


THE DICTATOR is hands down the funniest, cleverest movie Sacha Baron Cohen has ever made.  I was always a bit uneasy at films like BORAT and BRUNO. I felt it was somehow exploitative to frame ordinary members of the public, and the humour too often descended to the most base level. I'm thinking in particular of the scene where Borat hands his charming Southern hostess a bag of what she thinks is his own shit. That isn't satire or even good physical comedy. It's just cruel and crass. Luckily, Sacha Baron Cohen is now so famous that he can't get away with that kind of stunt-movie. The result is his first fully scripted feature - a movie that I feel is more tightly written, better performed, and more politically on point than anything he's done to date. 

Cohen plays a dodgy African dictator in the mould of Gadaffi called Aladeen.  In the opening scenes we see him lording it up in his home state to great comic effect, before journeying to the USA.  His evil sidekick switches him out with his body-double, in order to get at the oil reserves, forcing Aladeen to live a "normal" American life until he can regain access to his entourage.  This allows Cohen to simultaneously take the piss out of Western greedy capitalists and hippie liberals.  The capitalists don't care who rules, or what promises of fake democracy are made, so long as they can get the oil rights. The hippie liberals are so busy being nice and not offended that they can't even take offence when they should, or recognise a fake offer of watered down democracy when they see it.  Everyone has a price.  Love conquers all but doesn't really.  And America is the biggest joke of all - "a country built by blacks and owned by the Chinese" where it's recent history of democracy - wealth redistributed to the rich through the developed world's only regressive tax system; a presidential election decided by judicial fiat; where its ethnic minorities are incarcerated at disproportionately high rates; and citizens are held indefinitely without trial. The skill is that Cohen can make all these subversive assertions but still keep the tone of the film light-hearted and have us consistently laughing out loud.  Kudos.

THE DICTATOR is on release in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the UK, the USA, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Turkey and Armenia. It opens in Hong Kong on June 7th, Singapore, Brazil, Italy and Taiwan on June 15th, France on June 20th, Spain on July 13th, Argentina, Greece and Colombia on July 20th, Cambodia on July 26th, Mexico on August 10th and Japan on September 7th. 

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