Loosely based off the novel Zabibah and the King by Saddam Hussein, satirist Sacha Baron Cohen has re-teamed with Larry Charles to produce The Dictator. Chucking the impromptu interviews with unsuspecting private citizens, celebrities, and politicians, this film is tightly composed and utilizes a massive ensemble cast of supporting characters and cameos to reveal the failures of tyrannical dictatorships and even capitalism.
Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) is the supreme dictator of Wadiya and is close to enriching weapons grade uranium. The U.N. has threatened to impose sanctions, giving Aladeen the idea to state his case in New York City. Aladeen’s Uncle Tamir (Sir Ben Kingsley) and his closest confidant is responsible for hiring doubles to deter assassins from attacking Aladeen directly. Once in New York, Secret Security agent Clayton (John C. Reilly) is hired to kidnap Aladeen and assassinate him in order for Tamir to assist in the democratization of Wadiya. After being stripped of his beard, his most distinguishable feature, he befriends Zoey (Anna Faris) and starts working at her feminist food co-op.
Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles have teamed up for their third film together. Borat and Brüno both capitalized on Cohen’s lack of celebritism at the time and was able to land interviews with high-powered individuals and infiltrate key events as a special guest in order to reveal the gross indifference to homophobia, racism, and anti-semitism in America by interviewing common Americans. However, it would be unfair to not acknowledge that Cohen did in fact provoke the unsuspecting to deliver the content Cohen was looking for. These crafted mockumentaries have become comedic American staples.
Because Baron Cohen has created such controversial films and has a unmistakable profile thanks to his previous films, The Dictator required a more composed narrative. Using much of the same pacing and plot points in his previous projects to drive the film, The Dictator forgoes much of the impromptu interviews in order to punk politicians, celebrities, and even the private citizens, and embraces an uncanny ensemble of supporting characters and cameos. Like Borat and Bruno, Aladeen looses his control once he visits America, only to return to control after reforming himself. Only Baron Cohen and Charles know how to utilize each performer’s unique talent or celebrity profile. The best example includes Sir Ben Kinsley as Tamir, an internationally renown Shakespearean actor as Aladeen’s right-hand man who must kiss Aladeen’s armpits as a sign of respect. Having a respected English Knight place his lips on Baron Cohen’s armpits is a delicious satire that is a mere example of the genius of the film.
The Great Dictator was the first time Charlie Chaplin spoke on screen, and he did so to enlighten his audiences towards the gross intolerance of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. In effect, he was chided by politicians because the United States had yet to pick sides during the war. The Dictator lands after several dictators have either been removed, executed, or have passed away, and the Arab Spring has given millions a collective voice. Admiral General Aladeen is an amalgamation of tyrannical dictators such as Kim Jong Il, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and Hosni Mubarak. The film’s catalyst of uranium enrichment reflects the ongoing crises with North Korea and Iran. Sacha Baron Cohen has channeled Chaplin for a new generation and for a new world-wide crisis. In fact, Aladeen’s speech at the end is a stark reversal of Chaplin’s at the end of The Great Dictator. Like Chaplin, Cohen is creating a humorous satire that is meant to inform audiences of issues that are extremely serious. Unlike Borat and Brüno, where the audience merely laughed at the ignorance, The Dictator does not reveal indifference, just injustice.
While Baron Cohen and company poke fun at these dictators, he also reveals an awful truth: Certain American politicians, business personnel, and conglomerates have political and economic interests and behavior not too dissimilar to the targeted dictators. The Dictator smartly and effectively takes down a whole flock of birds with a polished stone. The film successfully outlines the failures of both tyrannical rule and conglomerate-controlled capitalism.
Compared to Borat and Brüno, this film seems to lack the hype and anticipation as the previous films. Baron Cohen has made a career by infiltrating the unsuspected and provoking them to reveal not just homophobia, racism, or anti-semitism in America, but simply that these private citizens are indifferent to these topics. The same indifference that Baron Cohen could easily float to the surface is the same indifference that keeps the American public at home. The politics and crises that exist outside their bubble do not matter to those who are mesmerized by The Avengers and The Hunger Games. It is a sad truth that could lead to a new target for Baron Cohen and Charles tackle on their next outing.