Didja ever see a movie that just blew your freakin’ mind?
What I like best is when you pull a movie out of the bin at the dollar-store, buy it because it was cheap, watch it because you’re mildly curious… and THEN it blows your mind! That’s even better than falling in love with some big-budget blockbuster, because you kinda see those coming.
I, however, am particularly fond of the amazing film that I didn’t see coming!
So, last week I stumbled across a dollar-store DVD entitled Dear Dictator. It stars Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, and a young lady named Odeya Rush who turned out to be fantastic. Talk about a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky!
That movie got an immediate five stars from me.
The story goes like this: Teen-aged Tatiana is the daughter of a single mother, and she fancies herself a bit of a rebel. In one of her classes, she’s asked to write a letter to a public figure in the hopes of getting a response. Going for the shock value, she decides to write one General Anton Vincent, the tin-pot dictator of a small Caribbean nation.
Oddly enough, the two become pen pals. It seems that Vincent relates to the troubled Tatiana, as his country is in a state of turmoil and and his people are ready to overthrow him… which of course, they do. So General Anton heads for the only American address that might actually prove to be friendly territory: Tatiana’s house.
The story proceeds from there, and of course I won’t drop any spoilers.
What floored me was the complexity of the relationships between the characters, combined with the profound social commentary. And when I say ‘social’, I don’t mean ‘political’. Anton Vincent is a pragmatist; he is less interested in shifting political winds than he is the immutable traits of humanity, traits which a clever revolutionary can use to manipulate entire societies. There’s a wonderful scene in which he illustrates Machiavelli’s ‘rules for revolution’, using a box of Tatiana’s old dolls and action figures from the garage.
What fascinates me about Anton is this: He’s almost certainly a Communist, which many viewers would find offensive. But the film doesn’t dwell on that, because it’s not important. What is important is how well Anton reads people, and uses his observations to serve his own ends.
Anton is not a particularly good man, nor a particularly bad one. He—like most world leaders—is simply a product of his times, his upbringing, and his environment. The writers just told his story without attempting to cast any judgment upon his character. What is so endearing about him is how deeply he obviously cares about Tatiana. He has a daughter about her age, and it’s doubtful that he was the best father. The viewer almost gets the impression that Anton views Tatiana as his ‘second chance’, his opportunity to do right by a young girl in a way that he didn’t the first time around.
He guides her, teaches her, and expresses pride in her as Tatiana learns to apply his revolutionary tactics against the bullies that endlessly torment her at school. I LOVED it when he told her ‘and that is how you pull off your coup d’éTatiana!’
Dear Dictator. An absolute stroke of genius, and all for a mere buck. I dunno know if it’s on DisneyFlicks or NetPlus or whatever the new brain-candy network is, but if you happen to stumble across it…
You’ll wanna watch it! Not only is it a wonderfully heart-warming story, it also gives you a lot to think about. Which is probably why it wasn’t a huge hit; your average person just doesn’t do ‘thought-provoking’ these days. But if you’re one of the blessed few who does…
Check it out! – V
(PS—You’ll also get to see Jason Biggs get water-boarded with a jug of milk. From humping cherry pies to getting drowned by Michael Caine, that poor feller has not had an easy career! Seriously…)