Studio: Paramount Pictures
Publisher: Four By Two Films
Release Date: May 16, 2012
Sacha Baron Cohen’s films have a tendency to take on controversial topics and exaggerate them for comedy. The Dictator takes this to another level. With a consistent international news focus on the Middle East and the political tensions that riddle the area, it’s a bit of an understatement to say that this is a controversial topic. And, as with all controversial topic, the line between funny and insulting is quite slim. Does Baron Cohen manage to tread that line, or does it fall flat and come off as a crass attempt at humour?
The movie opens with a dedication to Kim Jong-Il, and the humoured chuckle that rippled through the cinema sets the tone for the rest of the film. For a movie so heavily based in politics, it manages to have a huge range of comedy. From the low-brow, hit you in the face humour, to the really intelligent, observational political humour.
For a comedy set in a country with a large population is Muslim people, there is surprisingly not that much humour directed at the religion. Usually mainstream comedy movies can’t really help themselves at perpetuating as many stereotypes as possible for a couple of laughs. The Dictator certainly doesn’t shy away from stereotypes, but they’re somehow less overbearing than how they’re normally represented. In fact the only time suicide bombing or terrorism is really referenced for a joke, it’s a joke on the paranoid Americans. Or as a Wii game, which is a joke in itself. Sorry Wii.
But it wouldn’t be a Sacha Baron Cohen film if it didn’t have some scene that makes you cringe so much that you either burst into laughter or just want it to stop. Of course it doesn’t stop, but that’s about standard for comedy these days. However, these scenes don’t come as regularly as the good moments do, so as long as you can grin and bear it then it will be fine. Even the movie itself seemed aware of these moments, and seemed to shrug its shoulders and offer an apologetic smile. Because, let’s face it, these moments were always going to exist.
Most of the really successful humour moments were with Omar (Sayed Badreya), these two actors bounced off each other with scripted and improvised moments and often resulted in roaring laughs from the entire cinema. The dynamic and relationship between the to us one of the things that made the movie, without it the movie would have been far less enjoyable. Bradeya provided a grounded view that balanced out Baron Cohen’s outrageous character and Bradeya’s dead pan observations often made jokes funnier.
Aladeen’s romantic interest, Zoey (Anna Faris), was a part of the movie that I didn’t really get into that much. The romance only slowed it down for me, and I honestly didn’t really care about their characters’ romance. Anna Faris was great as the doe-eyed, well-meaning, campaigner for human rights but I don’t know any vegan feminist who is that tolerant or naive. Her role in the film seemed to be to help Aladeen’s transition, but he was already experiencing it organically. The best thing to come out of their relationship was Aladeen’s interactions with her store and his approach to customer service and other employees.
Perhaps the main reason that the film doesn’t come off as entirely racist is because it makes just as much fun of Americans. John C Reilly’s character is every bit as much of a caricature as Aladeen himself. Except Aladeen is a spoilt child, whereas Reilly’s character is just an A-class douchebag. The American media is also parodied, with a their tendency to sensationalise and read far too much into actions of politicians and the UN.
Aladeen is simply a person who came into way too much power, way too early on, so his beliefs and actions are ridiculous. Omar, in comparison, is a smart, hard-working nuclear weapons scientist and his disdain and insulting of Aladeen makes it clear that Aladeen is not a representation of Middle Easterners, but of a very small percentage of people who just have way too much power and not any boundaries. The way he acts is universal to all ridiculously rich people, not just those of a certain descent.
The movie has some really great sweeping shots of the fictional country of Waadeya, as well as New York. There are also a few sight gags if you keep your eyes peeled, especially in Aladeen’s lavish mansion and hotel room. If you don’t get too distracted by the ridiculously attractive virgin guards. If you do, then you’re only human.
The Dictator has a lot of familiar songs in it, however the lyrics have been changed to Wadeeyan, which often results in the use of the word Aladeen excessively. When this pops up randomly and with an incredibly familiar song it does add a lot to the humour of a moment that otherwise might have been lacking. The soundtrack always works in the movies favour, meshing well with the moments that it plays in the back of.
The Dictator reeks of Sacha Baron Cohen – it’s a controversial topic, a super over the top character, a ridiculous plot, basically just about everything you could ever expect him to do. However, it also manages to avoid most of the normal comedic fallbacks when it comes to the subject matter. For that reason it steps above others of the same vein, and is genuinely funny in several moments in a way that even the most high-brow of humoured people will find funny.