I’ve been debating in my mind whether or not I should go see Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film, The Dictator. Judging from what I’ve seen and heard about it, it doesn’t look very promising. First of all, the main character, Aladeen, is obviously modeled after Muammar Gaddafi: the sunglasses, the gaudy uniforms, the female bodyguards. The movie poster shows him posing on the back of a camel. (Gaddafi might have done this, but I can’t imagine any other Arab leader doing it.) The problem with this is that Gaddafi is dead. It would be just as timely for Baron Cohen to do a parody of Hitler or Stalin. It would be more relevant to make a film parodying the government of Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or the army generals who are trying to reverse the gains of the Egyptian revolution. One can only assume that Baron Cohen decided to make a film about Gaddafi because his notoriously eccentric personal behavior makes him an easy target.
And then there’s the trailer:
It starts with film clips of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and David Cameron. This is apparently meant to make the obvious Gaddafi connection even more obvious. However, it leaves out the fact that these leaders were all cozying up to Gaddafi until the uprising in Benghazi, when they suddenly decided to dump him. Western leaders do not oppose dictators unless they decide it is politically expedient to do so.
The synopsis on Wikipedia doesn’t make it sound any more promising:
- For forty years, the North African Republic of Wadiya has been ruled by Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), a lecherous, anti-western and antisemitic despot who surrounds himself with female bodyguards and intends to develop nuclear weapons. After the United Nations Security Council resolves to intervene militarily, Aladeen travels to the UN Headquarters in New York City to address the council. During his stay, he is kidnapped and shaven by a hitman (John C. Reilly) hired by his traitorous uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley). Tamir intends to replace Aladeen with a political decoy, who he can manipulate into signing a document democratizing Wadiya and opening the country’s oil reserves for business. Aladeen escapes and is discovered by activist Zoey (Anna Farris), who offers him a job at her co-op. Following the advice of his ally Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), Aladeen accepts the offer, as Zoey’s employees have access to the UN headquarters. Aladeen manages to acquire a new beard taken from a corpse, and infiltrates the headquarters, tearing up Tamir’s document in front of the UN delegation. Upon seeing Zoey in the room, he declares his love for her and vows to democratize his country. Upon returning to Wadiya, he marries Zoey, but is shocked when she crushes a glass and reveals herself to be Jewish.
If Tamir wants to open up the country’s oil reserves, why the hell would he want to democratize it? Instead, he would want all power for himself, so he could cut deals with trans-national oil corporations (as Gaddafi was doing). And how do you “democratize” a country just by signing a document?
Also, I find it interesting that Baron Cohen thinks he has to explain Aladeen’s opposition to Israel by making him an anti-Semite. It apparently doesn’t occur to him that there might be other reasons why an Arab leader would be opposed to Israel. (By the way, Gaddafi was warming up to Israel during the final years of his life.)
I suppose this is what happens when someone who isn’t interested in politics tries to make a political satire.
Now, maybe I would enjoy this film despite its problems. Maybe. But somehow I just can’t get enthusiastic about it. I would sooner see The Avengers again. At least it doesn’t pretend to be about anything other than itself.