Four Lions review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Perhaps only Chris Morris could have found the lighter side of fundamentalist terrorism...
Four disillusioned men assemble in a city in northern Britain, determined to bring holy war to the UK. Security guard, husband and father Omar (Riz Ahmed) battles against the ineptitude and stupidity of his team - well-meaning simpleton Waj (Kayyan Novak), ferocious white Islamic convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and nervy Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) - to form a plan to give their lives in the name of terror. But as director Chris Morris asserts, "terrorism is about ideology, but it's also about berks".
There's a scene in Four Lions that evokes the type of confused emotions you'd expect from viewing a bleak Lars von Trier drama rather than a hilarious and topical satire from one of the most daring and brilliant minds in British comedy. As radicalised Muslim Omar (Riz Ahmed) watches the latest footage of his group's jihadist videos, his wife and young son join him to laugh about the ineptitude of Omar's cohorts. And as audience members, living in a time of raised terror alerts and having witnessed the horror of holy war on 7/7, we're left with a knotted stomach as we attempt to process what's being played out on screen and establish just what exactly we're supposed to be feeling.
Is Morris humanising an aspiring terrorist and murder? Are we meant to feel sympathy for a man whose misunderstanding of his own religion has driven him to unleash terror on his surroundings, just because we're shown his family? Or is Morris simply showing that while the typical response to a depiction of a terrorist cell might be a knee-jerk generalisation about an entire culture, there are stupid, misguided men with families and 9-5 jobs in every walk of life, even terrorism? But it's through this sense in which Morris wrongfoots the viewer, makes us laugh at the bleakest of material, provokes tears for the fates of men we're told everyday are evil, that Four Lions succeeds entirely in affecting the viewer on a number of levels.
It's a near certainty that the right-wing press will unleash their beloved 'Ban this sick filth' headlines ahead of Four Lions' release and just as Morris lampooned news networks and tabloid outrage with his drug and paedophilia-themed instalments of Brass Eye, the Daily Heil and the Torygraph will again complete a self-fulfilling prophecy. By reacting with indignation that Morris has dared to elicit sympathy for a would-be suicide bomber, those sections of the press will have repeated the same snap judgments and blanket labels that have enabled Morris to make the film in the first place.
"Aside from its deft observations and compelling realism, Four Lions is, for all intents and purposes, an A-grade buddy comedy packed with one-liners"
But aside from its deft observations and compelling realism, Four Lions is, for all intents and purposes, an A-grade buddy comedy packed with one-liners. This is a world where a rant against Western consumerism is concluded with a cry of "f**k Mini Babybels!" A comic landscape in which 'anti-surveillance' means eating a SIM card or shaking your head in plain sight of a CCTV camera; where to buy a Jaffa orange is, for one member of the motley crew, akin to funding Israeli nuclear arms.
The dynamic between the group - who later recruit naïve aspiring radical Hassan (Arsher Ali) - is so convincingly rendered by the cast and writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (Peep Show) that the film could conceivably be the story of a rubbish football team with a chance at glory, or a rubbish band taking their final throw of the dice. It just happens to be about suicide bombers. And with the Omar-Waj relationship the beating heart of this black comedy - Ahmed is an intense, impassioned revelation - we find ourselves in the bizarre experience of witnessing a climax which is as thrilling as it is poignant.
Apart from the tonal wobbles - we can be in stitches, then unnerved within seconds - and the controversial content, Four Lions' only real problems occur on a technical level. Its low-budget, on-the-hoof camera style makes it feel more like a TV comedy than a genuine film - a pitfall In the Loop avoided in taking the themes of The Thick of It to the big screen - and there's a nagging sense that scenes have not been editing with the greatest scrutiny, so as to allow as many of the - admittedly excellent - one-liners to make the final cut as possible.
"Four Lions could conceivably be the story of a rubbish football team with a chance at glory, or a rubbish band taking their final throw of the dice. It just happens to be about suicide bombers"
But if audiences put aside their reservations about being invited to laugh at such provocative subject matter, they'll discover a brave and intelligent comedy for our time. Four Lions is a farcical and hilarious film, but punctuated with chilling realism and an undercurrent of violence to every utterance of our principals. It's absurd, and frightening, but that's exactly what it should be if we are to continue to laugh at our fears and remain on an even keel.
Four Lions is released in the UK on 7th May 2010
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