Having heard for years what a horrible guy Muammar Gaddafi was, viewers get an closeup view of the particulars from “Mad Dog: Inside the Secret World of Muammar Gaddafi,” a pull-no-punches look at the Libyan dictator and his grisly reign. Relatively short on historical perspective but long on salacious details (including chaotic footage of a blood-drenched Gaddafi meeting his end), filmmaker Christopher Olgiati provides a sobering reminder of the corruption of absolute power, as well as the unsavory characters that have sometimes gained it in countries the U.S. media generally report on only when all hell’s breaking loose.
Olgiati gives relatively short shrift to the circumstances surrounding Gaddafi’s assumption of power, the better to focus on the profligate spending — both by the leader and his children — that $1 billion a month in oil money can provide.
In somewhat scattered fashion, the director chronicles a list of transgressions, each more outlandish than the last, from befriending African dictators like Idi Amin to supporting and sponsoring terrorists. Political enemies are tortured (yes, there’s video), bodies are kept in a freezer and, perhaps most unnervingly, young girls are picked out of school so that Gaddafi can sexually abuse them.
Gaddafi never abandoned his nuclear ambitions and, despite all the pain he inflicted, didn’t believe his people would ever unseat him. And while some describe him as almost charming in his youth, the film largely zeroes in on his later years, when his face came to resemble a fright mask. (It’s mentioned he shared a plastic surgeon with Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi.)
“Mad Dog” derives its title from a reference to Gaddafi by Ronald Reagan, but the documentary only marginally explores the dictator’s relationship with the West or the many world leaders who came and went during his rule. By that measure, Olgiati’s movie is grim, disturbing and graphic — a litany of horrific behavior that, as the press release notes, often sounds stranger than fiction — but is less illuminating than it might have been.
Certainly, it’s a memorable glimpse of the evil that men can do. For all that’s revealed by this unflinching account, however, don’t expect many insights into the heart of that darkness.