Wrongheaded and bizarrely outrageous, the first feature from Robert Edwards chronicles the madcap historical throes of a fictionalized ur-nation (an amalgamation of Chile, Argentina, Iran, and the U.S., plus whatever) as it endures a Caligula-like scion in a line of military despots (Tom Hollander), suffers a quasi-socialist revolution at the hands of a Marx-haired playwright- messiah (Donald Sutherland), and then descends into Stalinist/Taliban fascism. The literate blitz of allusions and thefts does not obviate plenty of bathroom humor and shtick; in fact, the movie relentlessly veers toward the preposterous every time you think it might cohere into a political position. In this world, everybody’s either an evildoing behemoth or a dolt. Who exactly is the one-eyed man in this Mad magazine version of dialectical materialism isn’t clear; it surely isn’t Ralph Fiennes, as the passive hero who graduates from being a good soldier to being Winston Smith in a re-education torture chamber. It’s an easy movie to loathe, but it’s designed imaginatively and enjoys the committed attention of its cast.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 6, 2006