The Arty Semite

'Dictator' Is Sacha Baron Cohen's Best Film Yet

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

Until “The Dictator,” only a certain class of people appreciated Sasha Baron Cohen’s sense of humor — a class that fell between freshmen and juniors. In previous incarnations — as Ali G, Borat and Bruno — Cohen’s humor centered on putting unsuspecting people in awkward situations. It was occasionally funny, but more often just painful to watch.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Cohen’s new film is not only superior to anything he’s done before, it is easily the funniest picture of the year. From the film’s opening dedication — “In loving memory of Kim Jong-il” — to its politically potent conclusion — the title character wins re-election with what appears to be well over 100% of the vote — “The Dictator” is a seemingly unending gag reel.

The jokes ranges from sharp, hilarious satire to scatological references, and he hits his target at least nine out of ten times. It’s one of those rare instances where the trailer doesn’t spoil the film.

General Admiral Haffaz Aladeen has been the undisputed ruler of oil-rich Wadiya since childhood. He has awarded himself hundreds of advanced degrees, Olympic medals and even a Wadiyan Golden Globe for his performance in “You’ve Got E-mail Bomb.”

Now there’s something new. He is going nuclear — only for peaceful uses, or so he claims. Though he can’t keep a straight face when he says that.

The West threatens military action. To forestall an invasion, Aladeen’s trusted uncle, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), convinces his nephew to address the U.N. But Tamir has a scheme in mind. Once he arrives in New York, he will have Aladeen assassinated and replaced by a dim-witted look-alike. The new Aladeen will sign an oil contract that will make the uncle wealthy.

But the killer bungles the job. He shaves the dictator’s long beard without finishing him off. Shorn and alone in the Big Apple, Aladeen meets Zoey (Anna Faris), who heads a vegan, feminist, natural foods collective that supports both transgendered and non-gendered people.

In one of the film’s funniest scene, the pair take a helicopter tour of Manhattan to plan the capture of the Aladeen look-alike. Also on the flight, a pair of what appears to be mid-western tourists panic when they overhear the two men talk in Wadiyan about 9/11 (Aladeen is speaking about his Porsche) and then make explosive sounds (when they’re really talking about how beautiful the fireworks are by the Statue of Liberty). Following his arrest, Aladeen complains that ”the police here are such fascists — and not in a good way.”

He also runs into Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), the nuclear expert he thought dead. Aladeen had ordered his death when the bomb he produced was round at its tip, not pointed the way it was in the cartoons Aladeen watched.

But there he stands, alive and surrounded by others Aladeen thought assassinated, all eating at the Death to Aladeen Restaurant. (As if further proof were needed that New York is the restaurant capital of the world.)

Surprisingly, Nadal isn’t upset with his former boss. On the contrary, he is so anxious to return home to complete his work on a nuclear weapon that he joins forces with Aladeen to find the impostor and put the real Aladeen back on the throne. When Aladeen contemplates suicide, after discovering that his people do not love him, he argues with Nadal, who is trying to save him:

Aladeen: You’re such a schmuck.

Nadal: Why are you talking Yiddish?

Aladeen: I’m in New York and I like the way their words sound like what they mean.

Nadal: Did I miss the e-vite to your bar mitzvah?

Most will think they know how it all ends: Zoey and Aladeen become a couple; Aladeen sees the error of his ways and transforms his nation into a true democracy. But most people would be wrong. Cohen, who co-wrote the script, turns a potentially pedestrian story on its head.

“The Dictator” will prove the comedy equivalent of catnip for Cohen’s existing fans. And its sharp and intelligent sense of humor will attract even seniors.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: General Aladeen, Sacha Baron Cohen, The Dictator, Film, Curt Schleier

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.