Four Lions Is Wicked, Explosive Fun
Four Lions: 4 out of 5
Waj: We'll blow something up.Omar: What we gonna blow up Waj?Waj: Internet.
It is films like these that I want to instantly share with people. Four Lions is such a funny, dark, and offbeat satire that it deserves to be seen by more people, especially those wanting to be treated by something original, even if it treads along a seemingly non-funny premise. To pitch this as high concept to those unfamiliar: Four Lions is what would happen if you crossed The Three Stooges with the subject of radical Muslim suicide bombers, and then filmed the material as if it was This is Spinal Tap. You may have done a double take after seeing the phrase “radical Muslim suicide bombers,” but I can assure you, this film is a hilarious and wickedly satirical take on could be easily seen as a controversial topic.
The film tells the story of four aspiring British jihadists (and another fellow they bring into their group), who have dreams of ascending to proper martyr status by becoming suicide bombers. Four of these men are all Pakistani with one, Barry (Nigel Lindsay), being a white, Muslim-convert. After some setup, including a hilarious attempt at recording a jihadist video, the men split into two, with Omar and Waj (Riz Ahmed and Kayvan Novak) going to Pakistan in order to seek more training, while Barry and the others remain in England, picking up more supplies for their potential bombings. As the film continues, the men have to figure out what they intend to target, test each other’s patience due to their lack of knowledge in their planned actions, and have plenty of reflections on what the afterlife will bring them; all leading up to an explosive climax (pun completely intended – boom).
Certainly making the film feel more effective and grounded has to do with two things. One is the handheld/doc-style of filmmaking, which lends credence to the situations that the group find themselves in. The other aspect is how these characters are developed; particularly Omar, who can be best described as the film’s lead. Of Omar, we learn that he has a loving wife and young child, living a decent, blue-collar life. His friends also have middle-class standing, which is made more intriguing by the idea that they see their actions as such a good idea. There is clearly something wrong with the worldviews that the have, which suggests they know less than they think about what it is that they feel they are doing.
The most obvious companion for this film is 2009’s In the Loop, which is another satirical British comedy, but can be better described as a screwball comedy that happens to revolve around the British and American governments. Both films also share the same writers, which should not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has seen both films (and seriously, In the Loop is another great, dark comedy). As far as top double features go, both of these films will easily be ones that I will tend to put together and watch when I revisit them in the future.
Four Lions was directed by Chris Morris, an English satirist, who has a great eye for deadpan humor, “stirring the pot”-type subject matter, and how to capture idiots on screen. As this film is Morris’ directorial debut, I will greatly anticipate whatever features he has lined up next. It is a fine line to walk when dealing with controversial subject matter and comedy, but the humor does not try to be offensive nor does it become lazy in delivering on its joke moments. The comedy in this film is only helped by the subtle thriller element that evolves over the course of the film. Tone was definitely an important aspect here, and the film does not change up much from this over the duration, but it does flex a bit in the third act.
A comedy like this, which can make me both laugh out loud and leave my mouth agape due to its treatment of the shock-type moments, is one I have to recommend. It is not out of obligation, but because I just literally think it is necessary to acknowledge the existence of original films like this. Regardless of whether others like it or find it done in too much poor taste (which I would definitely disagree with), the film is a fresh exercise in solid comedic filmmaking and I enjoyed the hell out of it.