The Interview (and five of the best films about dictators)
What is there to say that hasn't already been written about The Interview? Unless you've been living on the moon for the last few months, then the chances are that you will already have heard plenty about the controversial comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. For those of you who haven't (welcome back, lovely moontan you've got there...), the story unfolded something like this: Rogen and co-director Evan Goldberg made a film that pokes fun at North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong Un – a bit like Trey Parker and Matt Stone did with his predecessor in Team America: World Police – only this time the film's script details a plot to assassinate him. That last part didn't go down too well with the North Korean regime, who described the film as “a wanton act of terror” and promised “grave consequences” should the film be released in cinemas as planned.
To be fair to everyone involved with the film, North Korea's leadership regularly voice their outrage at the West and in most cases there probably would have been a shrug of the shoulders and everything would have moved forward as planned, but when a cyber attack took down systems at Sony Pictures and the authorities received threats of terrorism against cinemas who screened the movie, in the interest of public safety the film was withdrawn from any cinematic release and, for a while, it looked as if The Interview would never see the light of day.
Fortunately though the studio decided a digital release was viable and, as of next week (June 8th), you'll also be able to own the film on DVD & Blu-Ray. So what was it about this film that caused so much fuss?
James Franco stars as Dave Skylark, the ever-so-schmaltzy host of a celebrity chat show whose usual guests are very much in the light entertainment camp, but when it transpires that his show has an unlikely and avid fan in the form of Kim Jong Un, he is presented with an opportunity to interview the North Korean dictator. When word of this reaches the CIA, Dave and his producer, Aaron Rapaport (Rogen), are approached by the agency and charged with a mission to assassinate him, using the interview as a cover story to gain access.
While this part of the film's plot clearly proved a bit much for the North Korean regime, in fairness to the filmmakers the portrayal of Kim Jong Un, played by Randall Park, is pretty flattering for the most part; he drinks beer, he shoots hoops and generally presents an image that says 'hey, I'm not really a mass-murdering despot, I'm just one of the guys!' Dave soon finds himself warming to the Korean leader, but while he and Kim enjoy their bromance Aaron is less convinced, trying to keep Dave and the mission on track.
Without wanting to drop any spoilers here, there is some pretty graphic violence towards the end of the film - which you could imagine causing Mr. Kim to get a little upset – but even this is of the cartoon & ketchup variety; this isn't a Quentin Tarantino film. Sure, the humour is a little on the juvenile side and at times Franco's manic acting is so over-the-top it's distracting, but if you enjoyed films like Pineapple Express and Knocked Up, you'll probably find there are plenty of laughs here.
You'll be able to judge for yourselves next week and you can find the trailer below, but in the meantime we've picked five other films that tackle the subject of dictators – some do so seriously and some.... well, some don't.
The Last King of Scotland
Forest Whitaker delivers a career-defining performance in Kevin Macdonald's 2006 film as the infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. With a reputation for violence against his own people and impulsive, erratic behaviour, any film about Amin could easily have been a very gruesome affair, but instead the clever plot details the horrors of his reign through the exploration of his curious relationship with Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), and his obsession with all things Scottish.
Macdonald's film depicts a paranoid and emotionally unstable leader, but while the events of his chaotic regime are addressed, so too is the greed of Dr. Garrigan and others who are willing to turn a blind eye to Amin's misdemeanours in return for a lavish lifestyle and a position of influence.
Detailing the final days of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, spent largely in his underground bunker in Berlin with Allied forces closing in around him, Oliver Hirschbiegel's film has almost become better known for the much-parodied bunker scene in which Hitler is informed that the Soviets have entered Berlin. The original, as you might imagine, offers far less in the way of laughs, but Bruno Ganz's performance as Hitler is simply outstanding and while his portrayal is by no means sympathetic, the film does offer a more human view of a man clinging desperately to his rapidly fading dream of a Nazi empire, even in the face of certain defeat. Downfall certainly won't change your opinion of Adolf Hitler, but it does offer some insight into his final moments and anyone seeing this film for the first time will me mesmerised by Ganz's performance.
The Devil's Double
The subject of this joint Dutch-Belgian production is not a dictator as such, rather the eldest child of one, but given that the subject in question is Uday Hussein, son infamous Iraq dictator Saddam, you can expect plenty of despotic behaviour. Directed by Lee Tamahori, the film stars Dominic Cooper as both Uday Hussen and a man named Latif Yahia who, unfortunately for him, happens to look just like Saddam's eldest son.
To give you an idea of what we're dealing with here, this is a man who, during his time as the head of the Iraqi Football Association, rewarded poor performances and red cards with torture and incarceration in prison camps, and who once shot a man for the heinous crime of failing to salute him. All of this made him quite unpopular, so occasionally he would employ a body double to send out for public appearances. That's where Latif comes in. Tamahori's film is a shocking depiction of life inside one of the Middle East's most powerful families and it is difficult viewing in places, but highly recommended nonetheless.
Woody Allen stars in his 1971 as an unassuming consumer products tester named Fielding Mellish who becomes infatuated with a political activist named Nancy. He begins attending demonstrations to impress her, but when she knocks him back by telling him she wants somebody with leadership qualities, he runs off to the South American country of San Marcos to join the rebels and soon ends up their leader.
When they succeed in overthrowing the current regime, he finds himself the unwitting dictator of the new republic and things start to go to his head. With a script packed with all the wry wit you would expect from a Woody Allen film, Bananas is as silly as anything he's done, but it's also incredibly sharp and very, very funny.
Team America: World Police
We could hardly go without mentioning the other film that pokes fun at North Korea and anyone who has seen both this and The Interview could be forgiven for wondering if the famously insular country picked the wrong film to be offended by. For all its high-jinx, The Interview does not include scenes of the Korean leader singing with a speech impediment, or transforming into a cockroach, for that matter.
The difference though is that while Trey Parker and Matt Stone are clearly taking the proverbial out of Kim Jong Il, the real target of their satire is America's habit of acting as the world's policeman. Like Gerry Anderson crossed with Michael Bay, this film is an absolute riot from start to finish and features, among other things, the funniest sex scene involving puppets you will ever see.