Review: Four Lions (2010)

Director: Chris Morris

****

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So much hatred is built on confusion, and there are few people as confused as the main characters in Four Lions. Omar (Riz Ahmed), Waj (Kayvan Novak), Barry (Nigel Lindsay), Hassan (Arsher Ali) and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) are plotting an attack. Where? They can’t decide. When? Not really sure. Why? Well….er….um… dunno, really. They haven’t really got a cause, save for misguided idealism.

Director Chris Morris is no stranger to controversial material. His mock news show ‘BrassEye’ attracted much controversy (a special episode on paedophilia was a lightning rod for a lot of tabloid bile). However, Morris knows that the best way to deal with hot topics is to tackle them head on armed with a barrel of laughs. In Four Lions, Barry is a hothead and a recent convert to radical Islam, causing ructions as an invited guest at discussion groups and advocating jihad. Omar is a more practical and idealistic individual, disillusioned with the depiction and treatment of Islam. In these two characters, we find the best and worst of extremism. Omar is an intelligent and eloquent young man, whereas Barry just wants attention, and is willing to be so counter-productive as to propose blowing up a mosque to get it!  When his car breaks down, Barry claim “Jews invented spark plugs to control human traffic!” He twists what people say until he hears what he wants to hear. The script (by Morris, Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell) is knowing, but never winks at the camera. Whatever comedy there is comes organically from the interaction between the characters.The relationships that build between this motley crew are bizarre, but touchingly real, despite the foibles of the eccentric Faisal, the jumpy Hassan and the painfully stupid Waj. The latter in particular is the source of much of the film’s comedy.

And what comedy it is! Simply put, Four Lions is hysterical. Early on, Omar and Waj are sent to Pakistan for training, which naturally ends in disaster. When they return to regroup with the rest, their plotting ends in further disaster, culminating in a bomb attack on the London Marathon. Four Lions’ greatest success lies in its ability to humanize these characters. They’re not soldiers; they’re incompetent idiots! They can’t hide bombs, they can’t make bombs, they can’t decide what to bomb; they’re doomed to failure! That said, the threat they pose to themselves and to others lingers just offscreen. Four Lions is, like the similarly-themed In The Loop, both laugh-out-loud hilarious and bitterly acerbic in its satire. It will make you laugh, and it might make you think. If only the ‘lions’ had thought of doing the latter…

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