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Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Dictator

Directed by: Larry Charles

Produced by: Sacha Baron Cohen
Alec Berg
David Mandel
Jeff Schaffer
Scott Rudin
Dan Mazer

Screenplay by: Sacha Baron Cohen
Alec Berg
David Mandel
Jeff Schaffer

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen
Anna Faris
Jason Mantzoukas
Ben Kingsley

Cinematography by: Lawrence Sher

Editing by: Greg Hayden
Eric Kissack

Studio: Four By Two Films

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date: May 16, 2012 (Worldwide Opening)

Running time: 83 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $65 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $148, 082, 000

Alright ladies and jackasses, I'm not gonna pretend I've been too busy over the past few days, though power-drinking at beer pong and feeling it at a reggae night in The Warzone Centre could be considered a taxing exercise. Anyway, I'm gonna try to get some work done in the coming week, even though I've (finally) got off the unemployment line. I'll be working security in Dublin at The Stone Roses and Swedish House Mafia gigs, so, who knows, I may see one of y'all there!

The movie stepping up to the plate today is The Dictator, the latest project of everyone's favourite dickhead Sacha Baron Cohen. As some of you may know, I've long been an admirer of his antagonistic and outrageously hilarious stunts. He always puts a great level of detail into his creations, and from what I had seen going in, The Dictator was to be no different. Saying that, I'd be lying if I didn't mention that the cynic in me was thinking that sooner or later this schtick was going to run thin. Directed by Larry Charles, 'The Eponymous Dictator' is Admiral General Hafez Aladeen, who after the United Nations Security Council threatens military intervention over his embargo of Wadiyan oil and supply of nuclear weapons, travels the United States to address the council in New York's UN Headquarters. However, shortly upon arrival, Aladeen is kidnapped by Clayton (John C. Reilly), who has been hired on behalf of his uncle and second-in-command Tamir (Ben Kingsley). After escaping (beardless and unidentifiable), he discovers that a double has replaced him, and with the 'help' of activist Zoey (Anna Faris), he sets out to regain his position as the "rightful dictator."

To start with the good, Baron Cohen and co. have bypassed my initial trepidation on the project. Aladeen is another wonderful addition to Baron Cohen's gallery of characters. Politically incorrect and utterly hysterical, he obviously all the best gags, but he's well worth it. Baron Cohen's physical embodiment of this character, with all his dialectical issues, unintentional puns and hypocrisies make for some of the funniest scenes in recent memory. Credit where credit is due, my hats off to Anna Faris, for being able to stand up to Baron Cohen's formidable Aladeen and not crack up. She plays her character completely natural, and injects with a real sense of force and personality. Also, Ben Kingsley (Baron Cohen's Hugo co-star) continues in his successful vein of generous supporting roles as Tamir. The screenplay features great comic dialogue, and genuinely out-there set-pieces, such as the helicopter scene that plays on the paranoia some people associate with foreigners in their country, speaking a language they cannot undertstand. Notwithstanding the usual outrageousness to be expected, things like the pregnant lady giving birth are just so gross-out, and the purpose it serves in terms of telling the story is inventive and original. Furthermore, it's one of those cases in which the medium/genre of comedy is used as a surface level allegory, while subtly depicting something a lot more subversive under the surface. It's a no-holds-barred savage indictment of the actions of the international political community in the wake of 2008 economic crisis, the United States governments mercenary attitude towards foreign policy, and, of course, a condemnation of political correctness' inherent absurdity. Also worth mentioning is that the film looks very well thanks Lawrence Sher's cinematography, but one of the real standout features is Erran Baron Cohen's original score/soundtrack. Contributing much to the overall atmosphere in the film, his score is lively, engaging and (granted, from my base outsider's perspective) has a soundscape appropriate to where the character of Aladeen is meant to be from. Furthermore, his choices for the soundtrack, remixing Dr. Dre's The Next Episode and in particular R.E.M.'s Everybody Hurts, go way beyond the cheap gag. Overall, his contribution does a lot to generate the atmosphere everyone is trying to get at. Finally, it is obvious that Larry Charles' part in the proceedings as director is important. He knows how to keep control of potentially combustible elements, and ensure that what comes out the other end is a very fine, very funny film.

However, with all these things right about The Dictator, there is a gaping wound in it's side that is hard to get away from. No one is ever going to say that Baron Cohen and his co-screenwriters are bad writers, but at heart, with all this window dressing, I can still see a barely held together and underdeveloped plot. Frankly, if you've seen Borat and Bruno, you've seen The Dictator and can guess where everything goes. Following the basic three-act structure and going to all the places we've seen before, it adds a layer of artificiality and mechanism to what is, for the most part, a comedy with an honest and human face. It does come across as if the screenwriters are padding Baron Cohen's sketches-set-pieces with a plot, so as to justify a theatrical release. 

That said, despite the plots negative artifice and contrivance, there is enough going for The Dictator that you can kind of except and not care too much about it. Sacha Baron Cohen is in his element as writer-performer, providing some stellar dialogue for his latest comic creation. Aladeen is in no uncertain terms a self-centred, monstrous man-child, but it is this bald honesty and respect Baron Cohen has for his audiences' sense of humour that makes him all the more hysterical and endearing. Furthermore, there is a genuinely wise bit of political propaganda at work in here. Thanks to this, sharp supporting turns from Faris and Kingsley, an atmospherically amusing soundtrack, some photogenic cinematography and tact and control from director Larry Charles, The Dictator is an intelligently pleasurable comedy to behold.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good, good (despite being bowled over by the sonically vicious Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile)

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