First Look: Sacha Baron Cohen wears a mighty beard as ‘The Dictator’

I am a firm believer in Sacha Baron Cohen.

I think both “Borat” and “Bruno” are impressive character comedies, and the way Cohen builds and inhabits his characters intrigues me.  He is a dedicated, inventive performer, and in a way, it feels like “The Dictator” is one of the most important moments he’s had so far.

Up till now, we’ve been watching him cross over from the small screen to the bigscreen.  Both Borat and Bruno were characters created for “Da Ali G Show,” and they had been tested and perfected there.  Both films played as sort of pseudo-documentaries about the characters interacting with people who were often real people, unaware of the joke.  And while I think both films have very different things to say, there is an undeniable similarity between them in style.  The one traditional narrative comedy that Cohen’s done, the actual Ali G movie, was sort of painful.  It didn’t work as a film, even if there are a few nice moments here and there.

With “The Dictator,” he’s doing something that was developed as a movie, an original character he’s created for film, and I’m curious to see if it makes a difference in the finished product.  Co-starring Anna Faris, “The Dictator” is directed by Larry Charles, Cohen’s collaborator on both “Borat” and “Bruno,” and it sounds like a much more conventionally structured film than either of those.  When a goatherd is discovered who is a perfect double for a dictator, it allows the leader to replace himself so he can go to New York, where he meets and falls in love with the manager of a health food store.  The thing that really makes it absurd is that Cohen’s based his film loosely on a novel written by Saddam Hussein about a king who falls in love with a peasant, and Cohen is doing a not-very-subtle riff on guys like Hussein and Qadaffi with this character.

There were some paparazzi photos released from the film recently, which is probably why Paramount decided to put out this portrait shot of Cohen in costume.  I hope that works for Catwoman on Nolan’s movie, and with Hathaway kicking stuntmen’s butts right now, it sounds like that should be sooner rather than later.

“The Dictator” will be in theaters May 11, 2012.