Four Lions (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
9Mar/110

Four Lions (2010)

ANDREW LIKEForgive my ignorance, please, if I'm not as familiar with my terrorist films as I should be.  There are a few that I can rattle off the top of my head - The Battle of Algiers, Paradise Now, Bruce Willis May Be Crazy - but not a single one of them struck me as very funny.  Sure, there was that scene in Postal where Osama Bin Ladin and George Bush skip merrily across a field, but the subject of that film was not terrorism per se.

I certainly can't think of many other comedies that use terrorism as a launching point but here we are with Four Lions.  What could have been an exercise in bad taste is instead an excellent study in the art of the dark comedy.  By taking it's subject matter seriously in ways that I wasn't anticipating, plus some good ol' fashioned funny situations, Four Lions produces a number of outrageous moments and a decent bit of thought provocation.

This certainly isn't a bad start for Chris Morris, a British comedian and director whose name has unfortunately eluded me until this point.  He worked in assorted sitcoms and did other political satire pieces previously but this was his first feature film.  I applaud him for having the backbone to see the implications of his source material through to the bitter end.

These are, without a doubt, the people you want handling bombs.

But before we get to that end we have to be introduced to the Keystone Kops of terrorism.  Omar (Riz Ahmed) is trying his level best to get one grand act of terrorism in before he is blown to Heaven.  Unfortunately he's saddled with Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a white Muslim convert who takes this far more seriously than anyone else, Waj (Kayvan Novak), the well meaning but incredibly stupid confidant of Omar, and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), a man with a penchant for trying to get animals to explode in the most destructive direction.

In the opening scenes the four of them try to shoot an appropriately menacing video threatening violent retribution in exchange for some kind of consideration (they haven't really thought ahead that far).  Much talk of close ups and the proper way to angle the gun ensues until Omar is left with nothing but blooper footage.  Footage that, amusingly enough, he's happy to share with his wife and child because they support what he does - at least up to the point where one of them appears on-screen with a box over his head to conceal his identity.

Yes, this is a film that is going to be dark yet take their demands (whatever they are) absolutely seriously.  For every moment we get of Faisal trying to create bird bombs we get a counterpoint scene showing the violence that Omar and the group are really capable of.  It's not underlined too much, but it's present and when the body count starts to rack up (be it their fault or not) we can't really be that surprised that they are accidentally dangerous.

I have to hope that no animals were harmed during filming, otherwise there are a lot of sad and tiny graveyards as a result of Four Lions.

Chris Morris' willingness to take both their cause and their faith seriously helps give the film a satiric edge based in honesty rather than condemnation.  He treats their faith like an important part in their lives and I got a lot of sad chuckles watching Waj try and justify the many mistakes and rocket malfunctions by saying God intended it this way.  Well, there's only so long you can do that before the whole "agency" thing catches up to you.

The film mixes the serious and the darkly satirical so smoothly it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.  A game of leap the sheep grows deadly serious, a quick betrayal of a man with legs for arms cuts the comedy short in exchange for pain, a bound terrorist stuffed in a trunk pops his head out just to let us know how serious he is; and on the pairings grow.  Then there's the matter of that climax where costumes and stuffing start to fly and it seems like Doctor Strangelove is just offscreen pushing each one of them to their inevitable conclusions.

I realize that I haven't talked about how funny it really is, but that's partly because of Four Lions' ambition as a commentary on how the world's ended up in this confused mess.  Still, any movie with bird bombs is automatically going to get at least a few points from me but stick around for the costume show.  If the logic of their choices doesn't make you laugh then their accidental solution to one of America's biggest problems certainly will.  Maybe if we just stopped trying so gosh darn hard to fight terrorism things would just settle down appropriately.

A nice thought, and one Four Lions pushes forward with a lot of intelligence.  And stuffing.  And squirt guns.

Four Lions (2010).
Directed by Chris Morris.
Screenplay by Chris Morris,  Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain and Simon Blackwell.
Starring  Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, and Adeel Akhtar.

Posted by Andrew

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