Review – British comedy Four Lions
– by Julia Brown
It’s safe to say that Christopher Morris’ feature film debut, Four Lions, has become a bit of a critical darling since it was short-listed for the World Cinema Narrative prize at Sundance in 2010. This acclaim is certainly warranted – it’s not every day that you find yourself literally laughing out loud at a film about Islamist terrorists.
Four Lions is about as black as comedy can get, mainly because the terrorists in question really are terrorists in the film; they blow stuff up, people die, and the powers-that-be are appropriately concerned about this group of radicalized young British Muslim men. In many ways the five men (yes, five men – even the title is a joke) are the quintessential “enemy within” since they are typical English lads in some respects. The only difference between them and a lot of British young men is that these guys want to wage Jihad on…something. They haven’t quite figured that part out yet, though, and therein lies the comedy.
The main weakness of the film is also its greatest strength from a comedic perspective. The total ineptitude of these wannabe terrorists provides the laughs, but it also borders on caricature. Caricature is necessary to satire, of course, but it’s a fine line Morris walks here; the characters’ almost-unbelievable level of incompetence allows the audience to see the folly inherent in the extremist/fundamentalist position, but these men really are so stupid that you can’t take any of it seriously. And without that touch of seriousness, the sharp point of the film’s satire doesn’t cut quite as deep as it could.
Take, for example, a hilarious scene involving a crow, some duct tape, and a small homemade bomb. The thick-as-plank yet oddly sweet Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) is eager to contribute to the group’s jihadist efforts and impress the ringleader Omar (played quite sympathetically by Riz Amed), so he decides to train crows to become suicide bombers. The idea is of course absurd on the face of it, and the results predictable (and funny). However, it’s exactly that absurdity and predictability that makes the whole scene a bit cartoonish.
The cartoon-like quality of the crow scene and the film as a whole is fine as far as it goes, but one is still left with the impression that a more sophisticated point could have been driven home, aside from “look how stupid these guys are!” Yes, it’s strangely refreshing to see the all-too-human side of Islamic terrorism – Morris’ film certainly takes you by surprise in that way, and that alone is a big accomplishment. Still, this film could have been more than just slightly thought-provoking, and it is that squandered potential that makes it a little bit frustrating to watch.
Four Lions is a unique and highly amusing take on the boogeymen of our times. But in the end, the most potentially explosive aspects of the film are almost as ineffective at hitting their targets as the characters in the film are at hitting theirs.
Four Lions is at Vancity Theatre April 15 – 20.