Film in Focus: The Dictator

Film in Focus: The Dictator

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The fourth feature from Sacha Baron-Cohen clocks up the laughs by leaving no taboo unmolested but lacks the brilliance of his earlier work.

Sacha Baron-Cohen has carved out quite a distinctive niche since he first appeared on our screens on the Eleven O’Clock Show as far back as 1998 and has since become one of world’s best comedians – not bad. With Ali G, Cohen had much in common with the satirical comedy of Chris Morris and the Brass Eye team. He exposed celebrities and politicians to be the ignorant or pompous self-promoters that we all knew them to be, only the most down-to- earth escaped unscathed.

In The Dictator, the coruscating probing of Ali G, and later creations Borat and Bruno, is replaced with a more traditional narrative comedy and gross-out slapstick that has become a staple of recent cinematic offerings such as American Pie and The Inbetweeners. Cohen runs through an A to Z of derision; everything from abortion to (z)xenophobia gets a grilling and, in a political world led by contemptible cretins and corporate cock-munchers, it feels pretty satisfying.

Cohen plays Admiral General Hafez Aladeen, a bumbling Gaddaffi type, complete with all the absurdities that you imagine a narcissistic despot would have. Aladeen is betrayed by his closest associates and finds himself in the good ol’ US of A trying to stop a plot that would see his country, the last great dictatorship in the world, become a democracy.

There’s no attempt to disguise the tenuous narrative set-ups that shoehorn in the gags. Most of the jokes involve those schoolboy favourites: bums, willies and excrement. Cohen takes these well worn cubicles of toilet humour to the next level and, as such, will have most people chuckling along happily. The more prudish among you will be fidgeting awkwardly like an embarrassed teenager with the misfortune of having to listen to their parents talk about sex in
a matter-of-fact way.

What lets The Dictator down is the superficial quality of the satirical insight. The final monologue sending up America’s dubious democratic values is tired, well-trodden ground (although not untrue) for all but the most deluded patriot. Somewhat disconcertingly, Cohen also betrays the medium he’s helped to pioneer by venting his wrath against all the human rights abusers out there bar Israel. Surely, the beauty of brilliant satire is that it isn’t partisan, it pulls-no-punches and it treats those in positions of power and privilege with the same derision.

The Dictator is funny and you’d have to be pretty jaded not to laugh at the more absurd moments. The scene where Aladeen finds himself delivering a baby has to be seen to be believed. But, in a world where taboos have become individually subjective, rather than
collectively unacceptable, relying on shock rather than smart insight means The Dictator is unlikely to stand the test of time. It does however stand the test of a couple of hours on a Saturday night.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.