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Review: Four Lions

May 6, 2010

CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD

You’ve heard about it, Chris Morris‘ jihad comedy, making terrorism funny and all that. How does he do it? Well the Dad’s Army influence is certainly there: the comedy is in the power play and false grandeur of some deluded blokes who want to show the world what for.

Four young men with very similar accents to those of the lead characters here managed just that back in 2005 on 7/7Four Lions uses comedy to try and uncover the men behind the grainy CCTV footage and martyrdom videos left behind, as well as point out the fallibility of the police in terrorist incidents.

A lot of great things have been said about the film, and they are deserved; more on that later. However, there are occasional moments where the film doesn’t work, and, unfortunately, someone decided to release one of those as a clip to give us our first look at the film.

Yes. Ineptitude on this level is just tiresomely surreal, not particularly funny. It’s a shame that this clip was used because the rest of the film is much better and has some good points to make.

One more not-so good thing, though: Waj (Kayvan Novak). It’s a bit of a cop-out having a character who is mentally-challenged and childishly dependant upon his lifelong friend, ringleader and antihero of the piece, Omar (Riz Ahmed). It isn’t fair on the viewer to have one of the aspiring terrorists be incapable of reasoning for himself, and wholly susceptible to Omar’s machinations. Isn’t this film about exploring why anyone would make the choices that a terrorist does, albeit with yuks?

Waj’s character feels like a mere source of cheap laughs, and then, towards the end, his inclusion is an obvious attempt to pull at the heartstrings. It’s not something you’d expect from Chris Morris or co-writers Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell, who have all been responsible in some way for cult TV series Peep Show and The Thick of It. His simplicity seems like a too-easy way to make their points.

Still. A minor thing. On to the good. The contrast drawn between the western-seeming Omar and his gang – editing martyrdom videos on his laptop, a sweet relationship with his (oddly-pro Omar’s suicide-bombing-death) wife – and Omar’s devout brother shows that a fundamental adherence to Islam, or any religion, isn’t really at the heart of terrorism. Omar’s brother is so religious that he refuses to be in the same room as his sister-in-law and he wears traditional dress all the time (there’s also a whole thing with him keeping his wife in a cupboard which is only funny the first time).

It’s the brother’s prayer meeting that’s ambushed by the special forces, not Omar’s gang with their storage units full of fertiliser and their bomb-crows. It’s the brother who, after the bombers’ deaths after blowing themselves up at the London marathon, finds himself in a warehouse with a very reasonable-sounding English man who runs rings round him with lots of confusing rendition doubletalk. The implication is that Omar’s completely innocent brother will be tortured for Omar’s crimes. It’s a perfect scene of horrifying-but-funny [horrifunny?], which this film often does so well.

The denouement of Four Lions shifts the film’s satirical focus from the 7/7 bombers to the Jean Charles de Menezes case; from the terrorist incident to its effects. With the bombers in fancy dress, hoping to blend in with the fun runners on the London Marathon, the police have cottoned on and are closing in. One of the bombers is already down; he was blown up by Barry (Nigel Lindsay) when he gave himself up to the police. From here on in, you know that there’s no escape for the characters we’ve grown fond of.

A pair of police snipers on a roof take aim at Omar in the crowd of runners, but they can’t agree on how to make sense of the intelligence being piped into their ears. What kind of furry fancy dress creature are they meant to be aiming at? A bear? “A Honey Monster is not a bear,” as one says to another. A Wookie perhaps? Perhaps. A Wookie does go down, and Omar, Honey Monster’d up, jogs on. The ridiculous exchange lends humour to a terrible situation we could all too easily at that moment imagine: police officers asking each other if de Menezes is enough of a good fit for their racial profiling to be worth a bullet or eleven. Well, we all know what they decided.

It’s a really good film. Don’t expect perfection, and don’t let any of these reviews tell you how to interpret it. Including this one. It’s out tomorrow, and what else are you going to be doing on the first evening under our newly-elected overlords? Exactly.

Four Lions is out in cinemas on 7th May

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