The Dictator – Review

THE DICTATOR (2012) 

Director: Larry Charles. Cast: Sacha Baron CohenBen Kingsley.

Heralded by a strong marketing campaign that makes it sound as the most controversial movie since the last temptation of ChristThe Dictator is a strange hybrid. It is certainly not what the trailers makes it look like, nor is as innovative as Sacha Baron Cohen‘s best work (well… so to speak… I guess I’m referring to Borat, which is no masterpiece but at least it felt new at the time). I call this a strange hybrid because in trying to be both controversial and a crowd-pleaser, rude and cute, clever and silly, in the end might just dissatisfy pretty much everyone.

This time the documentary style from both Borat and Bruno has been abandoned in favour of a more straight forward and linear structure. But while there are undoubtedly some inspire puns and good ideas here and there (right from the start the mother dying in child-birth), the story (or rather lack of one) is so idiotic and pedestrian that leaves those few good jokes too exposed and definitely not enough to keep you engaged even if the overall length movie is pretty short.

Believe me, I’m all in favour of good satire and I’m certainly not one of those who claim we should not joke on delicate issued like racism, xenophobia, terrorism and Arab (or Western) stereotypes and preconceptions. If it’s done with a purpose and if it’s clever, it can be as sharp as a knife and quite effective. Sadly here, you can just see sporadic glimpses of what this film could have been, had it not fallen into the trappings of a thin love story. Four Lions tried it last year: it was not completely successful, but it was a noble attempt. Here, the satirical edge of the Dictator is too diluted among cheap slapstick and unnecessary interludes, extraneous to the central message (the masturbation sequence for example, rude for its own sake, was just cheap and unfunny in my book, just to mention one… Just being rude for the sake of being rude should really not be the purpose of such film. Leave that to Apatow).

The Dictator was so desperate to offend and be controversial that it forgot its main purpose: to be funny. In the end it just fell flat. This is certainly not Dr Strangelove, but it’s not South Park or Team America either. It’s just a collection of gags, some more successful than others; a sort of modern-day (and more polished and slick) Kentuky Fried Movie (and let’s not forget that even that one is NOT a good movie!).In theory there is nothing wrong comedies made up with a series of gags all stringed together by a silly story. Look at Airplane! But at least on that one the gag rate was so fast that all you did is laugh… here the laughs are too few.

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding: I was in a half-packed theatre surrounded by what I suppose must have been the core audience for this type of product (a 20-something crowd) and the silence that welcomed some of the supposedly funny jokes was deafening: a clear sign that I was not alone in feeling sorry for a film that is just not as clever as it thinks it is…

5.0/10

Click here for my review of FOUR LIONS

Shutter Island – BluRay Review

SHUTTER ISLAND – (6.5/10)

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Leonardo DiCaprioMark RuffaloBen KingsleyMax von Sydow

I am assuming that if you are reading this, you’ve probably already seen the film. If you haven’t and you don’t want to know how it all ends, please stop now as this review will be full of SPOILERS.

The film has been around for almost a year now and it’s even out on DVD and Bluray but it recently popped up again on the pages of Variety, Screen International and The Hollywood Reporter in a big campaign “for your consideration” as Paramount is trying to push it for the forthcoming awards season.

The Cinematography

Well, for a start the film is just too long (it’s at least 25 minutes too long, if not more) and it’s just too pleased with its mood and its look. In a way it’s just too self-indulgent.

There are just too many characters, most of whom have to go through long tortuous scenes with dialogue full of exposition (including the “shock” ending which is played out with Ben Kingsley basically having to explain the whole film to Di Caprio).

And it’s a shame because the whole thing looks beautiful! Scorsese obviously knows his cinema history and pays homage to so many classics of film noir and from the 50s, from Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor, to The Snake Pit, to Hitchcock’s Spellbound and even Psycho at one point.

This is as dark as it gets in terms of mood, colours, and the whole atmosphere of the film itself. It’s all enhanced by the strangest music, assembled from previously recorded material and assembled for the film by Robbie Robertson (most of which sounds just like a horn sound from a boat).

And yet the film’s main problem is that the whole thing is played out like a big mystery heading towards the final “shocking revelation” and yet the audience is always miles ahead of the main character played (impeccably, I should say) by Leonardo DiCaprio. Let’s face it, you know pretty much from the very start that he is mad.

The constant dreams and flashbacks that Di Caprio has, the weird encounters with some of the characters in the film (particularly Patricia Clarkson) are pretty much telegraphing the fact that Di Caprio is seriously disturbed, so much so that when a piece of paper turns up saying that there’s another patient in the island we all know that it’s him! (Especially if we have seen films like Angel’s Heart, where a very similar trick is played).

The film tries to mess things up adding a series of red herring to divert the attention of the audience, but in fact, all they seem to do is to make the film a bit too slow and heavy.

When the ending finally comes, it all feels like A) something which we half knew already and B) a bit of a cheap trick. Also, let’s face it, a film that spends the last 20 minutes explaining to you everything you’ve been watching up until that moment in a long dialogue scene has something seriously wrong going for it.

And it’s a real shame because the story itself is actually rather good, including that very last line in the film where you get the feeling that Di Caprio is faking his madness in order to get lobotomized and not have to live with the pain of his guilt and sorrow anymore. It’s a beautifully handled and very sublte scene.

In fact, I must confess I probably enjoyed Shutter Island more on a second viewing on the bluray, where I wasn’t so confused by all the names and characters and I knew what to focus on and how I should have interpreted all those long dialogue scenes, which on a first viewing don’t make a lot of sense.

Don’t take me wrong, I don’t mind being confused in films, but as long as me being confused is actually the intent of the film-makers. If I start wondering “who was that guy again?” then the film has failed to tell me a clear story.

If I were to judge this movie on the basis of its visual style and its atmosphere I would probably give it a 9/10, the acting is superb (Di Caprio is always good, that’s now not even debatable), so is Mark Ruffalo, and it’s nice to see Ben Kingsley playing against expectations, but I found the movie is just let down by a lack of editorial judgement which should have made it a lot tighter.

On a technical note, the transfer on the Bluray is perfect, and so is the audio, as you would expect from a movie of this calibre. However the extras were pretty thin.

6.5/10 (though I really want to give it more)

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