This is the last of the three film reviews I wrote for the abominable Tab journal, yet I feel this one has a more interesting tale than either Michael or American Reunion. It was getting close to exam time, but I managed to convince my fellow Clareites Niv and Binky to join me on this cinematic escapade. With Sacha Baron Cohen at the helm, I knew this would be a film worth reviewing.
The contents of the film were shockingly bold and seemingly offensive, yet the three of us were laughing incredibly hard at it all. As risqué as it was, I decided that if a comedy film makes you laugh to this degree then it must surely be a success. So it was that I wrote a positive, four-star review.
Now, I always see reviews as a chance for creativity. Indeed, I recall a play named Zombie Haiku receiving a negative review in haikus on the very same website, although perhaps the reason this bout of activity was more well-received on the site is because the reviewer happened to be the boyfriend of the afore-mentioned Tab editor Jim Eason. From The Dictator, I had learned that the route of insensitive humour was a viable one, and decided to use it sparingly in my review, as an attempt to mirror the bold comedy contained within the film. My review was to be a litmus test; if the readers didn’t like what they read in the review, then they certainly wouldn’t like the film.
Nevertheless, the powers that be sought to put an end to what they think could have been a controversial mess and asked me to extinguish my attempts to be distinctive and edgy. Since it was their website and not mine, I had to bend to saying what they wanted me to say; indeed, Jim Eason once bent my whole review for me into something she… I mean he wanted me to say! I can accept that the changes made on the website may have been for the best, but I was upset to be robbed of the chance to say exactly what I wanted to say and exercise a little creativity whilst doing so. Now that I have my own blog, this need no longer be the case. I present to you the uncensored, uncut version of my review of Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator. Read with caution!
Let me start by saying that if you expect to sit through a Sacha Baron Cohen film without being offended, then you clearly know nothing about him. Those who are in any way squeamish towards the indecent treatment of women, children, Jews, Muslims, dead people, black people, 9/11 and/or rape should not see this film. Once again, Baron Cohen delivers a film that is about as respectful and sensitive as a 1955 bus driver from Alabama.
Importantly, The Dictator is a markedly different venture to Baron Cohen’s previous two films, the controversial Borat (2006) and its arguably weaker cousin Brüno (2009). We now return to a more conventional comedy film, entirely scripted and without relying on the outrageous reactions of unsuspecting non-actors. This is clearly a good move, as our star is now too famous to dress up in another disguise and fool more Americans.
However, not all has changed. Once again, Baron Cohen portrays a foreigner – this time a farcical send-up of Gaddafi with elements of other famous dictators thrown in – speaking in broken English, and a legend in his own country. Once again, the character enjoys living in a bubble of oblivion and naivety, blissfully unaware of the offence he creates. And once again, under his thick shell of impudence, the protagonist just wants to be loved. This formula has worked time after time, so why fix something if it’s not broken?
A political film it may be, but The Dictator always stays close to its true goal: comedy. The movie is positively saturated with jokes, running gags, physical comedy, satire, dark humour, non-sequiturs and even something that would work as a standalone sketch, with varying levels of quality and political correctness throughout. Once again, Baron Cohen takes a very visceral approach to comedy, often taking rather risqué scenes and drawing them out much further than other comedic writers would dare, in an effort to make the audience squirm in their seats. Perhaps the saving grace of the humour is that it is never tasteless, especially given the context of the film. In fact, there were probably only a handful of jokes that didn’t make me laugh out loud.
While I won’t divulge the elements of the plot, I will let on that it gets rather daft towards the middle. In particular, a scene where our main characters must deliver a baby together comes off as surreal and slightly out of place, but hilarious all the same. The plot feels designed around the jokes, but when I’m laughing this much, this isn’t really an issue.
To use a cliché, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and with The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen has broken as many political eggs as he can find to form a giant laughter omelette. Rather like Four Lions, the subject matter of this film is treated with all the subtlety of Kristallnacht, testing the audience’s ability to laugh at such bold humour. With such a wide range of outrageous entertainment, the film has the ability to generate huge laughs all the way through, making this comedy a success as far as I’m concerned.