If you know of Sacha Baron Cohen, or his previous two films, Borat and Brüno, (and how could you not?) you’ll have an idea what his new movie, The Dictator, is like. What it is not is a mockumentary, like that last two.
The Dictator — Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen of oil-rich Wadiya — is a satire on middle-eastern dictators, of course (esp Libya’s late Qadaffi), PC-ness (a goofy NY organic workplace and its inmates), the corruption of small states and large oil companies (he actually names them in the movie), American greed and xenophobia, etc. It’s also maximally offensive to women and gays and blacks and Jews and Chinese functionaries, and “A-rabs”. And features outrageous sketches on the theme of sex, power and celebrities (Megan Fox, Ed Norton); and a scene involving a cell phone and delivering a baby. Fully gross. And, oddly, it’s a kind of love letter to New York City.
(Oh yes, and a love story! Redemption!)
There is the neat move of twisting well known pop songs and rap into a kind of eastern style wailing. There is the manic chemistry between Ad. Gen. Aladeen and his ex-nuclear scientist Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) who relate like a cross between hostile best mates and a married couple. Aladeen speaks in a tortured kind of archaic migrant English, and there is a scene where the line “What sorcery is this?!” presages a flight of fancy that is as near charm as Baron Cohen will get. A lot of frat boys will be chanting that phrase (it’s about the joy of masturbation) for a while to come.
As we left I asked the ancient father-in-law for his verdict. He said, “It was mad!” I pressed, was it funny? “Yes,” he averred, “it was funny,” shaking his head.
It is very funny but I found I’d forgotten all about it the next day until someone mentioned movies. Kind of telling.
Cutting edge political satire
Constant Gardener pointed out that the dictator’s corrupt No. 2 was played by Ben Kingley as a spitting image of Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, the US’s unreliable dependant and inconstant comrade in arms. (See combo pic above.) That’s as cutting as satire gets.
Politico and Radio Free Europe Liberty have smartly picked up on Karzai’s blithe comment in a May 21 CNN interview (video), in which Wolf Blitzer asks, ‘Do you ever think of a movie starring Ben Kingsley as Hamid Karzai?’
“He is a great actor, and I would be very happy and honored if he took that role,” Karzai said. He can’t have seen The Dictator, or he’d be making Ad. Gen. Aladeen’s cut-throat gestures too.