Review: The Dictator (2012)

The Dictator is vulgar, offensive, cruel, juvenile and absolutely hilarious — everything we’ve come to expect from Sacha Baron Cohen. It’s also fairly pointed in its satire of terrible people of all kinds, whether they be racist, fascistic Middle-Eastern dictators or supposed champions of western democracy. This makes it a pretty intriguing mix of stupidity and intelligence.

Sacha Baron Cohen stars as Admiral General Aladeen, the egotistical dictator of the fictitious North African country of Wadiya. Aladeen is modeled after such ridiculous and evil men as Colonel Gaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and because of these thinly veiled connections to real-world figures, most people should have little trouble seeing the realism amid Cohen’s caricatures.

The plot follows Aladeen as he is abandoned beardless and unrecognizable in the streets of New York City. He had traveled to New York to address the United Nations regarding Wadiya’s growing nuclear program, but when he arrived, his Prime Minister, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), replaced him with an idiotic double he could control (also played by Cohen).

When Aladeen tries to return to the UN wearing tattered clothes he took from a hobo, he is assaulted by riot police and ultimately rescued by a radical leftist co-op owner, Zoey (Anna Faris). Stranded in New York and surrounded by his ideological opposites, Aladeen sets out to take back his identity.

While Borat and Bruno placed fictional characters into real situations where Cohen could satirize his unknowing subjects’ ignorance and bigotry, The Dictator is a conventional fictional comedy. This is a good thing. While some of the situations may not be as priceless as the ones in Borat, the change in format proves that Cohen understands when to change tactics and put outdated tactics aside.

The Dictator has an extremely short running time of 83 minutes (if only Judd Apatow and his crew could learn to be so brief) and moves at a hectic pace. Its jokes come nonstop and can be hit or miss due to their high frequency. However, they hit more often than not, and are frequently uncontrollably funny. An impromptu delivery scene in Zoey’s co-op is a masterstroke of stupid comedy, combining gross out gags and horribly inappropriate comments to delirious effect. I hadn’t laughed this hard since I rewatched Borat.

Beyond all the humour, the film actually makes some profound remarks about democracy and political maneuverings. It climaxes with Aladeen giving a monologue on the merits of dictatorship versus democracy that is a master class in political satire, a vicious flipside to Charlie Chaplin’s inspiring speech at the end of The Great Dictator, a film that obviously inspired this one.

While The Great Dictator had Chaplin playing both the brutal dictator and the lovable simpleton who finds himself in the position power, Cohen’s Aladeen combines aspects of both these characters. While he is a caricature, Cohen’s performance is committed and impressive, and one of the most surprising aspects of the film is that we end up caring for Aladeen, despite his terrible characteristics.

The Dictator is unapologetically stupid and impressively hilarious. It once again shows that Sacha Baron Cohen is a skilled satirist with few equals, and that there are no depths he won’t stoop to in order to make a joke.

The Dictator (2012)

Directed by Larry Charles; written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer; starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas, and Ben Kingsley.

7 out of 10