Why double Oscar nominee Sacha Baron Cohen is Hollywood’s greatest chameleon

Netflix/Amazon Studios

BY DAN BUFFA, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Sacha Baron Cohen is the epitome of a chameleon onscreen. In other words, a wild concoction of personalities that is both overwhelming and fascinating. One could easily describe 2020 as the greatest showcase of his talents. 

On Sunday, April 25 at the Oscars, Cohen’s work will be featured in two different films: Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and his own film, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” In the former, Cohen portrayed Jewish renegade Abbie Hoffman, who was one of the seven protestors put on trial near the Democratic Convention in the temperamental late 60’s. The versatile actor’s work was recognized for Best Supporting Actor in the critically acclaimed film.

Speaking of adoration from film critics, Sorkin’s film and the “Borat” sequel scored 89% and 85%, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes. They are original productions of the two largest streaming services at the moment, Netflix and Amazon. The latter film, which took center aim at the Trump administration, received a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination.

A merciless yet hilarious endless prank job on politicians and the pursuit of busting conventional norms, Cohen managed to top the impact of the 2006 original. Try watching “The Blood Moon Dance” in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” and keep a straight face while being appalled at the fact you are laughing in the first place. Cohen’s greatest gift is making the uncomfortable very funny.

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But then you watch his work as Hoffman, a soul who refused to be contained by societal norms, and you respect his dramatic talents. Everything with the actor/performer/writer seems to be a skit of some sort, a place where one wouldn’t know if a camera was going to fly out of the bushes or you will be famous for the wrong reasons. As “Borat,” Cohen has a mission: since you can’t change the ridiculous ways that American culture clashes with other cultures, you should at least get some humor out of it.

Let me ask you a question: Who else could find themselves at the Oscars for two completely different-looking, yet politically-motivated, films? Could anyone else in Hollywood pull off what Cohen is managing to produce? I don’t think so. He’s a comedian and serious actor at once, able to tickle the funny bone playing the antagonist in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” And then you see him on “The Ali G Show” and starting a phenomenon with “Borat.” Last year, he was in a Netflix film called “The Spy.” Then there’s Sorkin film and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” 

Cohen is a chameleon. In other words, he’s something else.