The Dictator – an ‘Aladeen’ review
Unlike Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous films Borat and Bruno, The Dictator is not a fly-on-the wall, candid camera film, but a straight narrative, as usual, co-written by Baron Cohen. The turn to traditional narrative in this film has removed the element of shock factor exposé that made his other films so popular. Rather than satisfyingly confirming a stereotype, or laying bare a social injustice (as do Borat and Bruno), The Dictator exaggerates a stereotype that exists in rumours, only to bring the character crashing down into a world of unconventionality and non-conformity.
It isn’t difficult to predict that the plot of The Dictator is rather infeasible. The dictator, General Aladeen (Baron Cohen), travels to America to address the UN who is concerned his country may be a nuclear threat. Whilst there, a mix-up with a doltish body-double (also played by Baron Cohen), sees General Aladeen cut adrift in New York (and vitally beardless), working in a hippie vegan wholefoods shop in Brooklyn. All leading to numerous moments that 14-year-old school boys will doubtless find hilarious.
Having said this, it’s also possible to comment that, though an entirely fictional narrative, The Dictator handles some incredibly controversial and risky subject matter. True to form, Baron Cohen doesn’t shy away from the provocative – with jokes about race and war and several real dictators openly mocked by name. Without real life directly driving the comedy in this film, Baron Cohen and co-writers Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer needed to push the boundaries further to get the same laughs. Ultimately, real life is often funnier than fiction: The Dictator has to contend with this. It would be unfair to claim that all the jokes are childish or gratuitously outrageous – The Dictator certainly has its moments and these are driven by a conscious philosophy that comedy shouldn’t censor itself for fear of offending. Baron Cohen’s writing is deeply intellectually engaged (as we might expect from a Cambridge history graduate), but seasoned with a level of frivolousness that presumably makes it palatable to a mass audience – at least in the eyes of producers and investors.
Baron Cohen’s over-the-top portrayal of the super-rich, eminently spoilt, breathtakingly arrogant General Aladeen does include some amusing details. General Aladeen has, among other things, created his own Olympics in which he is reigning champion, named himself top surgeon despite a total lack of medical training and changed several of his language’s words to “Aladeen” – including the words for “positive” and “negative”.
The Dictator is a very entertaining film. The most redeeming feature is that Baron Cohen has raised some thought-provoking, difficult and complex issues within a mainstream big-budget release. This is an achievement in itself. It would be a bit much to call The Dictator satire – it is deeply felt political and social commentary jumping into the show-biz safety net of comedy. The final speech is obviously pale compared to Charlie Chaplin’s performance at the end of The Great Dictator in 1940, but is reasonably well written and provides a satisfying curve-ball of irony at the end of the movie (though a potentially predictable one, which verges on schmaltz).
All in all The Dictator is a slightly less outrageous counterpart to Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous films, but seems to be trying hard to keep up. Where once films of this kind were shocking and refreshing for it, they have very quickly become over-done.
Watch the trailer for The Dictator here