Cohen puts the dick in The Dictator
For Sacha Baron Cohen the success of Borat meant it would be virtually impossible to catch lightning in a bottle twice. His heightened profile led to the loss of the anonymity that allowed his style of comedy to flourish and the dreadfully embarrassing Bruno was the direct result. Perhaps realising his limitations, The Dictator sees Cohen change tact as he makes his return to entirely scripted comedy. With a team of former Seinfeld writers on-board, including Larry Charles at the helm (who also currently write for the snark-favourite Curb Your Enthusiasm) The Dictator has a ton of comedic fire-power behind it and Cohen manages to retain his trademark daft offensiveness.
Few genres have the potential to be a divisive as comedy. While many films fall flat outright, being met with relative silent responses, other comedies that carelessly tread over the boundaries of good taste will always have their supporters and their haters; it’s here that The Dictator finds itself. Films don’t get much more un-politically correct than Cohen’s latest, so perhaps it goes without saying that The Dictator will certainly not be for everyone. Whilst it follows a different formula to Cohen’s previous “gotcha!” outings, the style of humour is exactly what one would expect from him. Under the guise of Admiral General Aladeen of the Republic of Wadiya, Cohen spends the vast majority of the film being a complete dick to anyone and everyone. Yet, in doing so, the character, and even the man behind it, comes across as completely inept and harmless. It’s that careful balance that ensures that The Dictator shocks, but does no real damage. Anyone looking to take Cohen seriously probably shouldn’t be wasting time on his films to begin with.
Aladeen’s inept iron fist makes him a prime target for internal treachery and gives Cohen a chance to branch out slightly from the role of the General. There’s no denying that Cohen throws himself gleefully into his creations and the relatively brief runtime of The Dictator ensures that the gag doesn’t overstay its welcome. The humour is absolutely offensive- there’s no minority group safe from Aladeen’s hatred, but more often than not, it’s damn funny, even if a pang of guilt follows the laughter. There’s a heavy helping of outright dumb gags as well, but they’re so stupid and unabashedly so, it’s difficult to suppress a smile even while shaking one’s head in disapproval. The Dictator does stop to make a pointed statement about US politics that falls into the funny-because-it’s-true category and depressingly so.
The supporting cast includes Anna Faris’ hippie-styled human rights protestor who unknowingly teams up with the disgraced despot. There’s not a whole lot that she offers to the role beyond a willingness to get her hands dirty (so to speak), but she’s adequate enough. Ben Kingsley is the scheming right-hand man of Aladeen and gets to play things straight. It’s an odd casting choice that won’t rank highly on Sir Ben’s CV. There’s also a myriad of cameos including a surprisingly self-deprecating turn from Megan Fox, who looks like she’ll take what she can get at this point in her career.
The Dictator is a successful transition in Cohen’s film-making approach and a re-assuring rebound from the horrors of Bruno. The array of humour and Cohen’s delivery maintains the film’s goofy tone despite the mean-spiritedness of the character. While The Dictator will certainly get its fair share of harsh criticism, fans of Cohen and this fearlessly devious brand of humour won’t be disappointed. As such, The Dictator deserves a successful reign. 8/10
Check out LFF’s photos from last night’s world premiere of The Dictator.