Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Four Lions (2010)


Plot summary: centres on a group of frustrated Muslim men in Sheffield who're plotting a suicide bomb attack to coincide with the London Marathon.

Chris Morris, writer and director of Four Lions, is best known for his satirical comedy shows, such as The Day Today and Brass Eye, which deftly deconstructed news broadcasting, issues-based and general British televising to hilarious affect. They dealt with a number of controversial subjects ranging from drug use all the way through to paedophilia in such a way as to demonstrate how badly they’d be misrepresented and exaggerated by the media. With Four Lions, a comedy about suicide bombers, Morris presents himself with his biggest challenge yet and I have to admit, I was unsure as to whether even he could pull the concept off in a tasteful and constructive manner. As such, I feel relieved to say that Four Lions is a side-splittingly funny, surprisingly moving and above all, extremely important film.

You may be asking yourself how anything about a group of British jihadists could be considered funny, and rightly so (provided you haven’t seen the film’s trailer of course). In making Four Lions, Morris seems to have taken a leaf out of Charlie Chaplin’s book as he channels the spirit of The Great Dictator thorough the film. He turns fear into laughter, to see these men as fools rather than people to be afraid of, and it works perfectly. There are far more failed attempts at suicide bombing, especially in Britain, than there are successes and Morris himself describes the film as portraying the, “Dad’s Army side to terrorism". In Four Lions our motley crew of would-be bombers are completely and utterly inept and although it doesn’t always feel right to do so their blundering ‘antics’ (planting bombs on crows, running through the streets whilst trying not to drop explosives) will have you laughing from start to finish.

There’s a lot more to the film that just slapstick routines and laughing at buffoons though as it’s not just about what these characters are doing – but why. Barry is a white Muslim terrorist, a funny enough concept as it is, who wants to blow his own faith’s mosques up in order to, “stir shit up”. Waj, who is a little slow to say the least, is simply copying his brother’s behaviour as he shouts hilarious lines such as, “Fuck Mini Babybels!” to join in. Meanwhile Fessal is a part of the group because otherwise he’d be, “eating newspaper instead”. These men (save for the main character, Omar) have no real clue as to what they’re fighting for and why and provide the source of much of the film’s hilarity (not to mention social commentary). These characters would be nothing, however, if it were not for the brilliant cast Morris has assembled to play them. They excel as standalone actors but also share a collective comic timing and ability to play off of one another which becomes one of the films greatest pleasures.

The films portray of various people connected to the bombers (police, politicians, bewildered co-workers and oblivious neighbours) is also one of its comedic strong points. Towards the end of the film this reaches jet-black levels of hilarity as a duo of police snipers argue over the difference between a Wookie and the Honey Monster whilst taking pot-shots at runners in the London Marathon. Thankfully Morris is also careful not to take aim at the underlying ideology or religious beliefs that drive these men (except for a rather funny swipe at their sexist attitudes) and knows exactly when to reign in the laughs to show the horrific consequences of their actions. Four Lions is a surprising film, not just because it manages to make suicide bombers funny, but because it’s also genuinely moving. Morris’s script, and the actors themselves, really sell these characters to you as three-dimensional people, instead of the usual perceived stereotypes of suicide bombers. As a result, while you’re never meant to agree with what they’re doing, you really engage with them on an emotional level.

You’ll care about what happens to these characters and some scenes may actually tug on your heart strings a little. The fact that Morris has shown little capability for human drama on this level in the past, and that he is able to balance it so well with the comedy, makes it all the more impressive. At other times Four Lions is also a downright disturbing film. The scenes of Omar’s home life in particular are some of the weirdest and disturbing moments of cinema this writer has ever witnessed. Whether it be Omar’s son getting excited at the prospect of his father’s ‘martyrdom’ or Omar altering the plot of The Lion King in order to brainwash his child, it’s truly chilling stuff. Omar’s discussions with his wife about his plans might as well be about a family holiday they’re that blasé. Many will undoubtedly misinterpret these scenes as Morris trying to make you feel sorry or side with Omar but it’s the other way around; these moments reveal him to be a thoroughly untrustworthy, manipulative and irresponsible human being.

My only real criticism of the film is that there is slightly too much broad humour present. Whilst there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with slapstick and laughing at moronic characters, I would have liked to have seen a little less of this and slightly more of the intelligent and intellectually challenging comedy Morris is known for. Similarly, a lot of Morris’s humour often came from the visual style of his television work and, save for a few moments, Four Lions is devoid of such techniques. That said, the film differs from his previous work in that focuses on human drama so perhaps a heavier visual style would have undercut this. Despite these minor grievances the film still stands as one of those rare beasts; an independent film with an important message that has mass appeal. Four Lions is brave, entertaining and essential cinema at it's best.

Final Verdict: 9/10

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