Director: Christopher Morris
Screenplay: Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, Christopher Morris & Simon Blackwell
Producers: Mark Herbert & Derrin Schlesinger
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay, Arsher Ali, Adeel Akhtar
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 101 min
Four Lions is the feature length debut of British writer/director Chris Morris. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, Chris Morris is the man behind a handful of surreal cult comedy series such as Brass Eye, The Day Today and Jam. Anyone who hasn’t heard of any of these should get them bought or rented as soon as possible, they’re twisted satire of the highest order (Jam is a bit harder to stomach, but it still has moments of genius). It’ll come to no surprise to fans that Morris has turned to the taboo subject of terrorism for his first film (this is the man that brought us the ‘Paedophilia Special’ episode of Brass Eye) and he doesn’t disappoint.
Four Lions follows the misadventures of Omar (Riz Ahmed) and his group of hapless terrorists. Omar and his painfully simple friend Waj (Kayvan Novak) are called up for training in Pakistan where it all goes horribly wrong and they escape home to the UK. Undeterred, they join up with disturbed white Islamic convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay), accident-prone Fessal (Adeel Akhtar) and rapper-wannabe Hassan (Arsher Ali) to plan an attack on the UK that will change the world. If they can all get along and not get caught in the process that is.
It’s a very funny film that feeds largely off the idiocy of those involved but also the inherent confusions of the situation. There’s the obvious confusion of Waj who doesn’t really know what he’s doing other than following his friend and leader Omar. Then you’ve got the fact that these characters are well-integrated into Western society and seem to embrace elements of it, yet are working to bring it down. This is one of the film’s key targets in it’s satire and it works very well without getting bogged down in it. Surprisingly a lot of the more controversial areas surrounding terrorism are skimmed over though. The biggest example of this is the fact that you never really get a feel for why the group want to become terrorists in the first place. You get the idea that Waj, Fessal and Hassan are just sort of following the crowd and that Barry will cause pain and suffering for any purpose, but Omar is very much a mystery and he is the most level-headed character and the film’s key protagonist. We are shown several scenes with his wife and son too who are fully aware and supportive of his plans, which makes it even more bewildering, especially seen as they seem quite happy, financially comfortable and highly Westernised. By avoiding this the film seems lighter and less biting than I expected, but I imagine it was a conscious decision to avoid touchy subject matter that wouldn’t settle with the tone of the rest of it. It did leave me wanting a little more substance though and this is the main reason I didn’t give the film a higher score.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t get dark though, it certainly does. The finale in particular has a number of disturbing moments and the scenes with Omar and his family have a bitter edge that I found quite haunting. Most surprising though, given the subject matter, was how likeable and sympathetic most of the characters were. I’m not saying I wanted them to succeed and blow up some famous landmark (or mosque or pharmacist as suggested in the planning stages), killing innocent people, but I felt close to them and wanted them to realise the error of their ways. The final scenes in particular are quite moving, despite the slapstick moments that precede them. After spending my teenage and student years watching Morris’ deliriously offensive and surreal TV shows it seems like an impressive leap to create human drama that’s so affecting in amongst the silliness.
The silliness is still where it excelled most effectively for me though. The physical and visual comedy is well-handled and the script is very sharp and endlessly quotable. It’s no surprise that Jesse Armstrong, who co-wrote In the Loop had his hand in this too. That and Four Lions are fine ambassadors for British comedy today and I hope that the makers continue to fly the flag for years to come.
For another take on the film head on over to Picturenose. To get into the community spirit we’re sharing this review to give readers a chance to get a more varied opinion.
RowThree's UK correspondent.