A bitingly satirical look at the mind set of suicide bombers, which manage to reach levels of genuine emotional pull.
Chris Morris, writer director of Four Lions, is not a
new comer to the realms of controversy. After all this was the man who,
among other contentious issues, raised the subject matter of ‘Good Aids’
and ‘Bad Aids’ (Good Aids being caught ‘through no fault of their own’
Bad Aids through drug abuse or sexual preference). In other words, there
is little that Morris is not willing to poke fun at. Four Lions is no
exception and the issue at hand here is none more close to the bone;
terrorism. However, and this is crucial to appreciating the work of
Morris, while he may use comedy to address serious subject matter there
is always a vast level of intelligence that manages to address the more
serious matter at hand.
Four Lions tells the story of a group of wannabe Jihadists who are anxious to wage war on the consumer driven British public. Omar (Ahmed) is the passionate leader who openly discusses his plans with his wife Sophia (Kalidas). Waj (Novak) is a simpleton who struggles to grasp the basic concept of martyrdom. Barry (Lindsey)
is an English convert who might just be the most dangerous of the bunch
as well as having slightly perverse ways of asking his friends to prove
their dedication to the cause. Then there is new recruit Hassan (Ali), who fancies the idea but not execution of being martyred, and Fessal (Akhtar)
a man who just wants to be part of the group of friends. Together this
motley band will fall out and argue their way to their final goal of
blowing up the London Marathon.
Morris sticks to his television series, Brass Eye and The Day Today,
routes of making everything feel documentary, in its style. In doing
this, we get up close and personal with Omar and his gang allowing us to
delve into the mind-set of a suicide bomber. It is here, rather than in
the actual ‘beliefs’, that much of the fun is had. The group dynamic,
in which they bicker and achieve little, is where the most laughs lie.
The tactics, Barry informs them, to avoid surveillance includes eating
their SIM cards, always shaking their heads when outside in order for
their faces to appear blurry, and therefore unidentifiable on camera,
are just some of the hugely entertaining gags on offer.
It is when Morris goes for the jugular that Four Lions excels. The
way in which Waj believes that becoming a martyr will allow him into
paradise, which, according to him, will be like avoiding the queues on
Rubber Dingy Rapids, his favourite theme park ride. Or the way Omar
describes his plans to his son by dressing them up as characters from The Lion King.
What Morris is doing is highlighting how these people benefit from
living in a Western society, one that allows Theme Parks and Disney
films, and yet they want to wage war on it. Hassan’s statement of “You
think I’m a bomber, because I’m Muslim, so why shouldn’t I be one?” is
an example of the oxymoron theories on display. It is not just the
misled bombers who Morris takes aim at. The police set to track them
down in the climax are just as inept at what they are trying to achieve.
As snipers argue over the difference between The Honey Monster and a
Wookie one turns to the other and says, “That must have been the target,
I just shot it”. It is a terrifying statement that resonates with an element of ‘if you do not laugh you will only cry’ mentality.
Crucially though Four Lions finds huge warmth in the characters and
as a result the audience find themselves not just liking but having
sympathy for them. They are essentially brainwashed and misguided.
Manipulated into a belief that they must wage a war on the West to prove
their worth, not to Allah, but to each other. That you find yourself
genuinely affectionate towards them as their plan unravels is testament
to the intelligence of Morris’ ability to play with our expectations.
Much of this heart is achieved through brilliant performances. Novak,
TV’s Phone Jacker, brings a heart melting stupidity to the incompetent
Waj. He is the Forrest Gump of suicide bombers making him hard not to
love. As Barry, Lindsey is the most terrifying character on offer. His
rage, combined with his ignorance, makes him the closest thing to a
threat the film presents. The stand out, though, is Ahmed as the leader
Omar. Continuing his brilliance in Shifty (2008) he is an actor
who feels utterly real in every sense. Omar could have been too comical
or too serious but Ahmed does both in perfect harmony, allowing you to
feel for him when things get too much. This will hopefully cement him as
a leading man rather than a clichéd terrorist in broader films.
There is no doubt Four Lions will offend many, it would appear to set out to do as much. But
there will be those who will find enormous truth in it, which results
in laughter and pathos in a brilliantly measured social commentary.
If this is what we can expect from Morris’ cinematic output then he is a
filmmaker like no other and warrants, indeed demands, close attention
to anything he tries his hand at.