Sacha Baron Cohen has dominated our screens and our attention over the last thirteen years. From his early beginnings on the late night british small screen where he attained a cult following from the character of Ali G ( a young suburban white male who is deluded from misinterpreting media, he believes he is a black man living in the ghetto). To the big screen, where he attracted mainstream audiences globally.
He is known for constantly re-inventing himself, morphing into different characters that are world apart from the last character he played. He is so engrossing to watch as he practices method acting to prepare for each role. This acting technique means that he becomes the characters off screen for months leading up to his camera appearance. He becomes the character he is playing so much that the material he uses for his films are all improvised. Sacha Baron Cohen attended Cambridge university and is clearly a very intellectual and witty person gifted with being able to improvise. This is one of the reasons why the comedy he creates from interviews are often so hilarious to watch.
The characters he plays are very diverse from one another, yet they share the common characteristic of being on the edge of western society through their sexual identities/ cultures/ subcultures and especially their ethnic origins. However Sacha Baron Cohen is very far from being one of these people as he is a former graduate of Cambridge University and is on paper, a very conventual person living firmly within society, far from the edge. He has the upper hand when interviewing people in positions of power, as from his education he understands the psychology of these types of people, due to his education at places like Cambridge and the people he was exposed to at such institutions. He also understands how they see people living on the edge of society, granting him the position of power in these interviews. Which consequently means the persons interviewed are the subject of amusement.
Characters such as Ali G on channel four, led to an opportunity for a film featuring the character in the cinema. The success of this led him to a feature film of his character of Borat. This was a surprise success globally, earning $261,572,744 at the box office to date. After which he was able to explore characters such as Bruno in mainstream cinema.
The basic formula for the success of these two characters were that they were men from outside of America, joining American society. Bringing with them their outrageous and offensive views which leads them to embark on an adventure through american culture (with an assistant from their country). Again the audience are in a privileged position unlike the the persons featured, who think that the characters are real and they are making a documentary.
A large negative of the extreme success of these characters in American cinema is that Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters are now so globally infamous and he himself has become such a celebrity, he is unable to get away with the old formula that made the films successful in the first place. With his latest film ‘The Dictator’ he plays the character of ‘Haffaz Alladeen’ IMDB describe him as ‘the bizarre dictator of the oil-rich African nation of Wadiya. Alladeen is as egotistical and ruthless as dictators come, executing anyone who disagrees with him’. Sacha Baren Cohen tackled the issue of being recognised widely by the American public by making the film not as a documentary but a feature film, with actors playing shocked locals of New York, rather than real shocked New Yorkers.
In the time between playing ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’ and ‘The Dictator’, Sacha Baron Cohen had played various iconic roles in commercially successful films such as ‘Sweeny Todd’ and ‘Hugo’. These characters were very different to the characters that made him famous, despite this he received positive reviews on the whole.
‘The Dictator’ is reminiscent of his films such as Bruno with the same formula that made these films a success however the fact it is set in a fictional world removes the danger from the film and with it the controversy. Combine this with a cliche Sacha Baron Cohen character that is ‘Haffiz Alladeen’ and you get a film that as an audience member you feel you have seen before, except that film was much funnier and entertaining. The Dictator has gone onto be a success in the box office and is another feature under Sacha Baron Cohen’s belt. However the phrase ‘end on a high’ springs to mind, and wether this film should have been made in the first place also with it. As it will disappoint his cult fans and possibly damage the acting career he was developing outside of his comedies for supporting cult character in films such as ‘Hugo’.