Details: 101 mins, In Cinemas 19 August 2010, United Kingdom, English
Synopsis: In a British city, four men have a secret plan. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is disillusioned about the treatment of Muslims around the world and is determined to become a soldier. This is the most exciting idea Waj (Kayvan Novak) has ever heard. Better still it's a no brainer because Omar does his thinking for him. Opposed to Omar and everyone else on earth is the white Islamic convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay). He'd realise he joined the cell to channel his nihilism – if he had half the self knowledge of a duck. Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) is the odd man out. He can make a bomb – but he can't blow himself up just now cause his sick dad has "started eating newspaper". Instead he's training crows to fly bombs through windows. This is what Omar has to deal with. They must strike a decisive blow on their own turf but can any of them strike a match without punching himself in the face?
A very sharp send-up of Muslim jihadists.
A lacerating satire about a group of British Muslim jihadists, Chris Morris’ Four Lions is a bitter, brilliant take on a world that is both ludicrous and nightmarish. The co-writer and director, making his feature film debut after two decades spent upending the convention of British television with current affairs spoofs and bizarre Candida Camera-style pranks, does not seek to disarm his subjects by making us laugh at them, he shows the horror implicit in their action. You have to laugh, he says – it’s the only reaction that doesn’t demonise the (mainly) young men who believe they’re going to paradise when they blow themselves up in public. In a strange, confrontational way, this is a funny, hopeful picture.
At just under 100 minutes, with an aesthetic built to an independent budget and a background in quick television production, Four Lions doesn’t feel or look like much at first. It’s as scrappy and home-made as the explosive devices planned, and eventually built, by a Sheffield-based cell of suicide bombers. Part of Morris’ achievement here is that his humour increasingly draws realisations alongside the laughter.
One key facet is the sheer Englishness of the men, the majority of whom are the sons of Muslim immigrants who speak with thick northern accents and say things like “Flippin’ heck, bro” while they sit in their front rooms and plot damage to the society they appear all too entangled with. Their conversion to extremism is never explained – there are no grand speeches – and that’s one of the way Morris makes you look anew at their world. It takes no grand turning point to set them on their terrible path, they gravitate whether for reasons noble or plainly daft.
The group’s nominal leader is Omar (Riz Ahmed), a security guard whose dedication to the task at hand is continually tested by his buffoonish leadership rival, Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a barrel chested English convert to Islam, or the dense but well-intentioned Waj (Kayvan Novak) and the ineffectual Faisal (Adeel Akhtar). Omar aside, their attitude to being jihadists is shaped by the media culture they consider propaganda; they don’t have a genuine sense of their own aims or what they’re striving for. Yet that never means they can’t achieve their follies, or monumentally stuff up along the way
Their day to day interactions are in the manner of modern British comedy. The search for status within the group turns on whatever is last said, with arguments turning into surreal streams of dialogue as stupid statements are taking to their absurd extreme. “You cannot win an argument just be being right,” yells the easily enflamed Barry, who in the manner of converts everywhere feels the need to go the extra mile to prove himself. Pugnacious but deluded, Barry is a chest-thumping believer whose logic is so twisted that it suits the milieu. Discussing possible targets, he suggests the local mosque, certain that mainstream Muslims will see the attack as the work of the British security services and become radicalised. Omar pours scorn on him, yet the idea persists because the idea sadly rings true. Morris is showing us that real world is so debased that nothing stupid and fictional he can think of doesn’t resonate within its twisted parameters.
Each step of the way, whether making martyr videos or training in Afghanistan, grand British bumbling and moronic asides draw stinging, sustained laughs even as the cell’s plans move closer to fruition. Equally, tender moments have a rich biliousness – when Omar tries to explain his actions to his son the subject he uses for his parable is The Lion King. Fanaticism has an ordinary face and extraordinary outcomes – the first time Waj is left alone with a degree of autonomy he’s so confused that he can only do the wrong thing in the hope that he’s right.
Morris doesn’t pull his punches in the final act and he achieves his own aims by following the storyline through to its final, happily illogical outcomes. He even shows how the official response will be at once a whitewash and an encouragement to the conspiracy-prone future generation of jihadists: “The police shot the right man,” intones a government official, summoning the black tone of Dr. Strangelove, “but the wrong man exploded.” Morris knows that a true farce not only devotes itself to comedy, it also contains the seeds of tragedy.
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