Cinema Review – The Dictator (2012)

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June 7, 2012 by Liza Lou

I have always had a love/hate relationship with the work of Sacha Baron Cohen. I thought Ali G Indahouse was nonsense stretched out far too long to take it from TV to film and think over the years have probably tried (and failed) to watch it all the way through lots of times. In his next big project Borat, I thought he was a witty, satirical genius and lapped up every awkward minute. I don’t know if I had grown up and was learning to have a sense of humour or whether it was just a better film but something must of switched again because Bruno made me cringe so badly that I was left confused as to whether I found it funny or not. His own characters are so highly  exagerated that sometimes they seem a little hard to take but funnily enough, at least for me, Sacha has dead on comic timing when playing a supporting role such as Jean Girard in Talladega Nights or Aldolfo Pirelli in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd.

I digress of course, this isn’t a post about what I do or don’t like about this comedy actor’s (very successful) career but of course I had all of the above in my mind when weeks ago I first saw the trailer for his new film The Dictator. The trailer was enough to peak my intrigue though and I may have even let out a giggle so first impressions were good enough for me to buy my ticket and see what this latest character was all about.





Admiral General Hafez Aladeen is childish and a little niave. He also has quite the ego brought on by the power of ruling the fictional region of Wadiya for forty years. His small mindedness makes him anti western and and he is completely consumed with his world of ruling and forced oppression on Wadiya’s people. Sacha brings him to complete life of course, drawing on every single stereotype he can think which results in a somewhat jeuvenille character rather than one that is rounded. That on its own isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Aladeen’s childish persona is established early on but the jokes seem sloppy and are constantly repeated as if to force the audience to laugh because they didn’t the first time. A quick look at the ‘major’ reviews about specifically those on The Dictator’s official website tells me that I am in the minority with my opinions but still it all comes across as a bit lazy. 

Slapstick is funny. Making fun of something we don’t fully understand is funny. Even the odd pooh and masturbation gag is funny. However, taking one of the most current political and cultural references that causes division and some confusion publicly and hitting it repeatedly with the stereotype brush really, really isn’t. 

I will add here though a quick mention about the costumes which were a high point with their completely over the top madness. I was unsure whether I was watching a caricature of power mad ruler or a rock star but that’s the point surely? Flamboyance should be glitzy and crazy and it was there at least to look at with sequins, prints and fancy dress military chic. A great example of when something is so wrong that it is so so right!

So what of the plot? Is there any more redemption to be found there? 




Put simply, the movie follows Aladeen as he is taken away from his empire and forced to live in the western world while watching his life (now being lived by a body double) unfold in front of him through news reports. Of course, he wants back in and plans to get there through any means possible with only one thing on his mind, to keep the people of Wadiya opressed and needy. 

Sacha has teamed up again with director Larry Charles who he worked with on both Borat and Bruno but has moved away from the mockumentary feel of the those, instead making as straighter a film as this really can be. On the whole this works with elements of Charles’s Curb Your Enthusiasm work showing though and in parts that shock ‘did that just happen’ reflex rears up more than once.

The film does follow the simplest of plots which feels a tad disconnected at times but again, that’s probably in order to cram as many gags in as possible.What it does achieve though is a bringing together of misfits when Aladeen meets alternative activist (who is brought to life byAnna Faris), who ultimately teaches him about her world and helps him eventually to see things a little differently. This addition to the story softens the character of Aladeen and even provokes sympathy and warmth in a kind of coming of age sort of way, this also helps to balance out the in your face aspects that seem to grind through the rest of the film.




All in all then, I seem to be still on the fence as far this form of comedy goes but I haven’t given up hope yet. There was enough moments in the film not to discount it all together but I am also certain there will many out there who will absolutely love it, let me know what you think?!

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