Okay that title doesn’t even make sense. First week in and I’m already running out of names. Well, actually, after the article is read I guess the name will make sense. Barren means many things, a few including “lacking”, “lacking charm” “lacking ideas” and such (thanks dictionary.com). One actor of our generation is one that everyone is on the fence about. People think he is, well, lacking the qualities it takes to be a top notch, memorable actor. Then there are those like myself that think this man is quite spectacular. I am of course talking about Sacha Baron Cohen. Best known as the biggest troll in the world, Cohen is the man behind Ali G, Borat and Brüno. But we all knew that. What many of us don’t talk about enough is his acting career outside of the humiliating trio, with fine performances in Sweeney Todd, Hugo, and his stint on Curb your Enthusiasm.
Now, there is both applause and jeers made my cinephiles when it was announced, without contest, that Cohen was to play the late Freddie Mercury in the Queen movie due later this year. The as-of-yet titled movie (so far temporary names have included Mercury and A Kind of Magic) will show the life of the charismatic frontman from the spark of the band’s career until their live aid performance in the 80’s. I think there are a few thoughts on the minds of those against Cohen playing one of the best frontmen of all time. Firstly, should he even be qualified? Should a man that makes a mockery out of the lives of others play such an important role? Well, let’s look at why a mockery is even made and who we should really blame. Many comedians work through satire and parody, such as Stephen Colbert and John Stewart. So does Cohen, but his approach is different. Cohen’s characters represent stereotypical bigots that contain qualities that irritate the ignorant. Ali G is a white “chav” that acts black, Borat is a superstitious anti-semite, and Brüno is a homosexual narcissist. But the majority of the fun isn’t just from the witty lines of false stupidity that Cohen comes up with on the spot, but instead the appalling reactions and rises he gets from people. Instead of solely disturbing the people he interviews, he instead allows their inner demons to come out. The majority of the people that sue him are those that feel embarrassed for what they said. There were a few innocent people caught in his trap, but sadly they got caught in a legal web. See, Cohen is smarter than your average bear-owner. He’s actually a Cambridge graduate.
He may have studied history and theater and not law, but Cohen is still highly intelligent. All of the people he interviewed in his mockumentary films signed forms before he filmed them, so technically he can get away with it. He knows the ins and outs of the legal world. As well, the whole interviews weren’t always disastrous and humiliating, but they were edited to flow that way in his films. How else could he have earned the trust of his “guests”? So what did this segment of the article tell us? Cohen is an asshole, but a very smart one who lets people mock themselves more than he mocks them directly. But apparently, that’s all behind him now. His three characters have been retired. However, he’s not finished being a comedic star. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s The Dictator.
The Dictator is an upcoming farce that Cohen, once again, is the mastermind of. Unlike his other creations, The Dictator is entirely scripted and not mostly improvised. It’s a work entirely of fiction, but it still is full of politically incorrect fun. My guess is he grew up and stopped using people’s dark confessions as a source of humor (or he felt that it’s been done before now, so why bother? Plus how many people can he fool being a supposed dictator instead of tourists?). So, why is this film important? Here’s a cheap segue; It’s one of the first films of Cohen’s new age. He’s had enough of trolling people in person. Now he wants to just be an actor. That’s the second question naysayers had about Cohen as Mercury; Can he act as anything more than a clown? Surprisingly yes. His minor part in Sweeney Todd was one of the more well known roles of his before recently, where he played a barber turned greedy that sells fake solutions for hair. He’s both funny and just downright creepy. What deserves more credit is his role in last year’s Hugo. He plays a train inspector with a crippled leg, who, of course, provides some of the comic relief. At the same time he plays a sly villain who is incredibly intimidating. Finally, you even end up feeling sorry for him and wish the best for him (while still caring or the protagonists, of course). So what do we get from this? Cohen can play multi-layered characters well.
Also, again, he studied theater in Cambridge where he acted in plays such as Fiddler on the Roof (he wasn’t always a jackass). Actually, he is going to be a main character in the upcoming Les Misérables adaptation (by Tom Hooper) coming out this December. Piecing his resume together, he has studied (and will continue to work with) classic plays, he can be an asset to dramatic films as both a minor and a major character, and he can lead a film, all while straying away from the gimmick that got him successful in the first place. I guess the final question is if Cohen can sing or not. I mean, it is important if you are going to be playing Freddie Mercury. Surprisingly, yes Cohen can.
Now, the obvious example is, again, his role in Sweeney Todd. But is that enough? He’s going to be in Les Misérables, but is that even enough? Well, if the guy got hired for two musical productions, there has to be a reason. There is. He was reportedly a choir boy for a large portion of his youth. In an interview, he has stated that his work as a choir boy helped him learn how to change his voice and mold his accents to fit the characters he plays. Then again, he could be lying, but would a guy with so many qualifications do that? I don’t know. I can’t trust a guy that captures women in sacks. Whether he was a choir boy or not, he still has received acclaim from reporters and filmmakers alike for his singing abilities. I guess that’s the biggest problem and concern the non-believers have with this guy. None of us can trust him, so how can we be excited for him?
He exceeds all the criteria required for this biopic, and he always gets well into his roles as much as possible as a chameleon actor, but should we care? I personally think he will do a good job, but what do I know? I thought it was alright to leave the spoon in my bowl of soup when I heated it up for a few seconds and that didn’t end very well. There’s both things to commend and things to pick at when it comes to Sacha Baron Cohen, but in the end, he’s anything but lacking. Still, what do you think will come of this Queen biopic?