Four Lions

Four Lions

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

It comes as a surprise to find that a film about four bungling wannabe suicide bombers can have quite so much heart and quite so many laughs, while still managing to raise some unsettling issues. Unlike Morris's tabloid-bating work on TV series such as Brass Eye and The Day Today, Four Lions has a comforting old-school feel, revelling in the sort of humour that stems from pushing the familiar into absurdity - the kind of laughs you would associate more with Ealing comedy classics than with the likes of Armando Iannucci's In The Loop. That said, it has a hidden, wickedly satirical edge and the inventive Urdu swearing on display from a Pakistani training camp mentor early in the film would give Peter Capaldi's Malcolm a good run for his money.

This exploration of how the ordinary can quickly become extreme runs throughout the film.

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And they don't come much more ordinary than Omar (Riz Ahmed). He's a happily married bloke, living in the shadow of Sheffield's Meadowhall with a young son and the sort of homelife that seems as far away from suicide bombing as the Queen is from Posh Spice, and yet with the blessing, if not tacit encouragement, of his wife, he is planning to go out with bang. Plans may be afoot for a massacre but it seems, at least initially, that his raggle-taggle band of aspiring jihadists would struggle to organise a piss up in a brewery, let alone a conduct a covert mass murder operation akin to the July 7th bombings.

Omar's team of no-hopers include Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a white Islamic convert with the sort of fundamentalist born-again fervour that makes him think blowing up a mosque would be a good way of teaching non-Muslims a lesson, and Waj (Kayvan Novac) and Fessal (Adeel Akhtar), who are definitely not the brightest fuses in the box. Later they're joined by Hassan (Asher Ali), who shows how easy it is to go from statement maker to life-taker with the right encouragement. There is nothing anti-Muslim about these characters, though, since Morris reserves his satire for their fundamentalism not their faith - illustrated in the way Barry, in particular, twists quotes from the Koran or the manner in which Fessal insists on wearing a box on his head during their homemade 'message' videos because he says to appear would contravene Islamic law.

In fact, if it weren't for the obvious political backdrop, these could be any bungling blokes trying to get something off the ground. That is, of course, part of the point. These are ordinary people, with regular lives who, for reasons it's a shame Morris doesn't explore a little further, have chosen to take up their less than savoury cause. As they blunder about trying to make bombs while not blowing themselves up, Morris deliberately encourages us to feel for them and, in a strangely perverse way, to want them, if not to succeed, then at the very least to get away with it. In this way he - and his writing team of Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain - give us a taste of what it might feel like to get to know someone who holds extremist views. If even we like Omar, then is it any wonder that his wife supports him and his friends look up to him?

Morris also proves a master of comedy with a chilling edge. The sight of Omar telling his son a bedtime story in which the characters from The Lion King have become suicide bombers is at once hilarious and deeply unsettling. "He'd be dead before his head hits the ceiling," says his son, showing a similar sort of childlike enthusiasm to that of Waj - wanting the action without understanding its real implications.

The actors are all comparative unknowns, but that isn't because any of them lack talent, particularly Ahmed (also worth looking out for in low-budget Brit flick Shifty) and Lindsay, who despite Barry being the most objectionable of all the characters, still finds a way to make him sympathetic.

The only problem with the film is that it is a little bit too subtle for its own good in places, with some of the satire floating above viewers' heads. There is virtually no mention of the Government aspect of the equation, save for a brief Question Time style scene, and you can't help feeling that Morris and his team have somehow missed a trick. It also suffers from the curse of many TV-skit-creators-turned-film-scribes with some of the mid-section playing out more like a series of sketches than a fluent narrative. Outside of the UK, too, it might be that these guys could be mistaken for immigrants rather than born and bred British citizens, a suspicion underlined by the fact Morris was keen to point this out in his introduction to the premiere screening.

But if some of the satire suffers at the hands of more simplistic buddy-style humour, the closing scenes are razor sharp, as the writers' sights are firmly set on the police and security forces. The idea of parodying the death of Jean Charles De Menezes is a dangerous one, with huge scope for failure, but here it is rendered both laugh-out-loud funny and as serious as a bullet through your artery. And Morris never forgets that film is intended to entertain - in addition to raising some poignant questions this truly is a blast.

Reviewed on: 25 Jan 2010
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Four bungling would-be suicider bombers try to go out with a bang.
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Read more Four Lions reviews:

Paul A J Hamilton ****

Director: Christopher Morris

Writer: Christopher Morris

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak, Preeya Kalidas, Nigel Lindsay, Arshal Ali, Adeel Akhtar

Year: 2009

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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