#75 Four Lions

(2010, Chris Morris)

“I can’t even get them to stir their tea without smashing a window”

Chris Morris is no stranger to controversy. His satire has tackled a number of touchy subjects, none more high profile than his tackling of media hysteria over child abuse cases in the late 90s via his Brass Eye special. What got lost in the controversy was the fact that despite the touchy subject matter, Morris was very good at pinpointing what made the issue absurd and pushed the absurdities to the extreme, and as a result, the show was hilarious. Cue Four Lions, Morris’ directorial debut, a comedy caper about Islamic terrorists. Can he repeat the success of Brass Eye or is this genuinely as offensive as it sounds?

A small, independent terrorist cell has been formed by a group of British Muslims in a flat in Sheffield. Among them are Omar (Riz Ahmed), the brains of the operation leading the charge, Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a white convert to Islam who’s ironically the most deranged and devoted to the cause of bringing down the West, and Waj (Kayvan Novak), a not-too-bright friend of the group who’s seemingly just there because it’s something to do. They wish to enact a terrorist attack via suicide bombing, but the problem is, they have no real motive or even a target for their misguided plans. The movie tracks their clumsy attempts to form a cohesive plan, and all the shenanigans that ensue.

Now, I’ve said before that I hate reviewing comedy, under the notion that analysing it makes it less funny and less effective. However, the comedy here is clever enough to be analysed and studied and still hold as great comedy. This is largely due to the awkward subject matter, which many writers and directors would have shied away from, and even then it could have become offensive for the sake of it or just painful to watch. But it works? Why?

It’s simple. Four Lions operates under the premise of changing the perception of terrorist bombings. Terrorists are often painted as devious, scheming monsters with a great master plan; no one is safe with them around. But the film takes a different view. What if the bombers were hopeless misguided fools with no agenda other than someone telling them that they need to go on a suicide mission just because they’re Muslim?

The comedy derives from the group’s constant inability to form a sensible plan. Barry rants and raves about blowing up a mosque to convince “moderates” it was done by the enemy and that they should rise up too…before making a video clearly claiming responsibility for it. Another member of the group suggests blowing up the chemist chain Boots because “they sell condoms that make you want to bang white girls”. Another member suggests blowing up the Internet. Sure, the idea of terrorists planning their attack is close to the bone, but what’s so different from all those crime capers where bank robbers struggle to come up with a sensible plan?

The characters are also presented sympathetically, as odd as that sounds. Their lack of real cause makes it clear that they’ve been misled by less than decent parties, and their naivety turns them from monsters into real people. What’s more, the group are all friends, and this is presented realistically. They fight and bicker a lot, but ultimately the feeling is that this is a group of close friends working together to achieve a common goal, even if that goal is questionable. This camaraderie lasts right up until the dark ending, where the tone becomes more serious (yet still slightly absurd).

Obviously, some people are unlikely to ever be won over by this presentation of Islamic fundamentalism as comedy. But it does a great job of being funny and entertaining despite the difficulty of the subject matter. It succeeds because it never sets out to be offensive, focusing instead on turning these supposedly monstrous people into fallible human beings, and never once jokes about the loss of innocent lives that comes with terrorism. Morris walked a fine line here and never wobbled once. The balance is perfect.

A very original, very refreshing and somewhat poignant British comedy.

Starring Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak & Adeel Akhtar
Written by Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong & Sam Bain
Produced by Mark Herbert & Derrin Schlesinger
Cinematography by Lol Crawley
Edited by Billy Sneddon

Favourite Scene: When Barry discovers that the entire room full of bleach they’ve bought for bombs came from the same shop. Faisal informs him he was disguised…as an IRA member.
Scene That Bugged Me: Seeing Benedict Cumberbatch as a clumsy police negotiator. Not because his performance is bad, but simply because seeing him doing anything clumsily feels weird after watching Sherlock.

Watch it if: You need some light relief from the scaremongering
Avoid it if: You read the Daily Mail

Originally posted on Wednesday 4 April 2012


Posted on April 15, 2012, in 2000s, Comedy, United Kingdom. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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