Chris Morris has stirred large amounts of controversy in the past, particularly with his show Brass Eye, which satirised socially “sensitive” issues like drugs, AIDS, and paedophilia. His debut feature film Four Lions is no different – it bases itself around a group of Islamic mujahideen terrorists and their efforts to engage in a suicide bomb attack in England. While some will see this as questionable subject matter for a comedy, I’d hope that these viewers will be able look beyond this perspective. Because Four Lions is a hugely entertaining, and hilarious film.
Regarding the subject of Muslim suicide bombers being the focus of the storyline (the aspect of Four Lions that will be talked about most), Morris himself pretty aptly summed up the film’s take on such a matter when he said it was the “Dad’s Army side to terrorism.” The main characters are indeed bumbling idiots, but this works on its own level of humour as well as being an exaggerated spoof on terrorists (although Morris says that the events are based on real-life mistakes made by would-be mujahideen). And the film does take comedic cracks at Islamic extremists and their beliefs, as well as a couple of minor ones on their religion itself, through the eyes of lead protagonist Omar (Riz Ahmed). But people have been taking jabs at most other religions for a long time, haven’t they? While the source of the comedy is derived from the fact that the men are terrorists, and it is satirical in this sense – the film seems mostly to make fun of the characters themselves, rather than making fun of / attacking Islam or extremists. If that makes sense… The film deals with their stupidity a lot, resulting in even some slapstick comedy, which just goes to emphasise the ridiculous nature of their own plans and personalities. Omar and Waj (played by Kayvan Novak, who you may know as Fonejacker) are severely frowned upon by their superiors when they attend a training camp in the mountains of Pakistan. Even others who share the same ideas see them as total morons.
Four Lions presents the mujahideen terrorist leads as incredibly human, all with actual personalities, rather than as the faceless threat that most people view such extremists as. Being portrayed as actual characters enables them to become instantly likeable (aside from the fact that they want to blow people up), in their complete buffoonery. You’ll grow genuinely attached to the characters, and the conflicts between them that come as a result between their occasionally-contrasting ideas. There is a degree of emotion brought up too, particularly with the friendship between Omar and Waj, which becomes much like that between two brothers. The cast are all fantastic, Nigel Lindsay as the short-tempered Barry, and Adeel Akhtar as the crow-bombing Fessal being standouts. Nobody lets down the team, and everyone is perfect in their role.
At the Sundance premiere of the movie, Morris said: “I feel in a weird way that this is a good-hearted film. It’s not a hate film, so I would hope that that aspect would come through.” It is absolutely possible to see what he means here, as while you clearly won’t support the character’s actions (probably), you do get to know them and think of them as that type of “loveable idiot.” This succeeds in paying off in the film’s more serious moments.
For the majority of the film, the comedy comes pretty fast. When I initially watched the trailer for Four Lions, I wasn’t sure how funny it was going to be, but there is an absolute abundance of brilliantly funny moments, and many that managed to achieve that loud roar of laughter that you only get as a result of a priceless sequence. Some scenes are just pure comedic genius, a notable one being when Fessal explains to Barry how he managed to acquire a garage-load of liquid peroxide from the same shop, using “different voices.” You can find this bit on YouTube, but I appreciated it much more seeing it in the context of the film, and I think you will too. The timing, the delivery…it was amazing. And there’s another bit involving a co-worker of Omar’s who is out jogging. I won’t ruin it, but I wouldn’t be able to explain even if I wanted to. It just made me laugh a lot, which is more than most movies can claim these days. While there are a couple of times when the film isn’t making you choke on your popcorn, these generally serve as character-developing or plot-related scenes, and Four Lions is absolutely never boring.
I can’t really think of anything bad to say about the film, apart from the obvious comment that there could have been even more laughs. But if that were the case, the serious parts wouldn’t have been as successful, so it all manages to balance out. Of course, the nature of what the film is about is unfortunately going to put some people off seeing it, but I really don’t think it should. As I’ve said before, the film is more about the idiots themselves rather than the ideals that they’re engaged with (I’m not saying that there is no level of mockery, however – because there is).
A quick note for anyone interested in seeing the movie: there are some plot points spoiled in trailers for the film, as well as on Wikipedia and such. Just be careful, is all! I would like to applaud the trailer for one thing however, in that it didn’t ruin all the funny bits, like so many trailers do nowadays. The film itself achieves a much higher level of humour than the trailers show, and it exceeded my expectations.
Another standout British comedy on the heels of last year’s swear-fest In the Loop, Four Lions doesn’t yet have a release date in the US, where I believe most of you will be reading this from. Nor does it have a release date set anywhere else outside the UK, if IMDb is to be believed. It is a great film though; one that manages to strike that fine balance between laughs and good characters, and even with a bit of emotion thrown it. And it achieves satirisation not just of the people it portrays, but also of the way we might perceive them. It satisfies on a number of different levels, and it is absolutely worth checking out whenever it does come out where you are. And if it doesn’t – I’m sure you can just import the eventual DVD release. It’s worth it.
8.5 / 10