"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" – George Santayana.
***1/2 out of **** (3 and One-Half Out of Four Stars)
A relatively new sub-genre, the television "docuseries" is longer than a standard feature film but shorter than a typical season of a live-action TV series. Since 2018, Netflix has released just over two dozen of these productions, with virtually all of them receiving critical acclaim and audience accolades.
While the subjects include cuisine, science, the animal kingdom, science, and the arts, the studio of late has been putting the emphasis on true crime and history. A mixture of crime, history, and politics, "How to Become a Tyrant" is as far from the traditional documentary as loyal fans of that genre could imagine.
Based on the 2011 book "The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics" by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, "Tyrant" is broken up into six 30-minute episodes and takes monumentally depressing subject matter and frames it in a manner that, for lack of a better term, makes it borderline fun to watch.
Completely devoid of the sort of dry, finger-wagging, arcane verbiage which usually permeates similar productions (virtually the entire History Channel archive), editor Jeremy Cloe assembles stock news footage, present day academia commentary, and a plethora of animation styles (supervised by Ron Myrick) into a quick-clip pace that falls just short of whiplash-inducing.
It’s worth mentioning there is no credited director, and instead, a dozen producers.
One of the those producers is Peter Dinkledge, a phenomenally gifted actor best known as Tyrion Lannister on the HBO show “Games of Thrones” (2011-2019), who does double duty as the narrator. Dinkledge should consider doing more voice-over work.
His honey-drenched baritone rivals that of Morgan Freeman and his inflection frequently strays into sardonic sarcasm, which is ideal for the subversive approach to the material.
Although the individual episodes focus on Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Muammar Gaddafi, Josef Stalin, and Kim Il-sung, each of these infamous despots bleed into episodes of the other.
The point isn’t to differentiate one from another, but rather to connect their commonality.
Make no mistake, these men studied past dictatorships; saw what worked and what didn’t.
By the time Kim Jung-un took over the family business in 2009, he merely honed and tine-tuned what his father and grandfather had previously implemented.
Unlike every other leader discussed, the third Kim didn’t have to start from scratch or deal with any serious rivals and doesn’t stray from winning oppresive formulas. There appears little reason to think he will be successfully challenged or deposed in his lifetime.
A quick run-through of the episode titles is concise, to-the-point and first sign that the content won’t be spoon-fed or sugar-coated: "Seize Power," "Crush Your Rivals," "Reign through Terror," "Control the Truth," "Create a New Society," and "Rule Forever."
Arguably the most powerful and horrific episode of the entire production is "Control the Truth," which focuses primarily on Stalin and Hitler. Getting power is the easy part; keeping it is much more difficult.
In tandem with the media of their times, they rewrote history, created scapegoats for deflection purposes, twisted conformity into "unity" and crushed anyone who dared to question their motives or methods.
Any U.S. citizen paying attention to their current surroundings will recognize what went down in the Soviet Union and Germany in the early 20th century is taking place right now with the current White House administration, the majority party in Congress, and lapdog media outlets.
What’s past is prologue.
Labeling censorship, the stifling of free speech, and attacks on the constitution with soft language don’t lessen the severity of these affronts to liberty.
Some people will certainly find the irreverent take on the troubling subject matter to be flip and perhaps insensitive and that’s understandable. If within 15 minutes you find if it’s not your cup tea, simply turn it off or watch something else.
There are others who will view the use of satire and unconventional storytelling methods within the construct of a video "how-to" manual or "playbook" to be the audience-friendly counterbalance to disturbing accountings of history.
It could also go far in making roping in viewers that steadfastly avoid documentaries at all costs. If you toss in some escapist visual flourishes and off-beat comedy, the production will have less of a "Castor oil" effect.
"Tyrant" is rated TV-MA, the television equivalent of "R" for movies and it received that rating for violent content. Nothing shown here hasn’t already been seen in other productions and/or news reports and is certainly not any more violent than your average Marvel flick.
If your mature child has seen "R" rated movies (or played "MA" video games), suggest to them that you watch "Tyrant" together.
The highly visual approach to the often starchy and static documentary genre might open their eyes and give them a chance to make comparisons between it and what’s coming at them from all directions every waking moment.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is based in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on floridamanradio.com. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles and is one of the scant few conservative U.S. movie critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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