Four Lions *** ½
Directed by: Chris Morris.
Written By: Jesse Armstrong & Sam Bain & Simon Blackwell & Chistopher Morris.
Starring: Riz Ahmed (Omar), Kayvan Novak (Waj), Nigel Lindsay (Barry), Adeel Akhtar (Fessal), Arsher Ali (Hassan).
Chris Morris’ Four Lions is one of those films that I cannot seem to get out of my head. It is a daring satire and pitch black comedy about a subject you would think would be an impossible fit for the genre – suicide bombers. Yet, somehow Morris pulls it off, and the result is a film that will challenge you whether or not you agree with it – or whether or not you think the film should have even been made.
Omar (Riz Ahmed) is a British Muslim who is tired of the way his country treats his people. He has formed a terrorist cell of his own – made up of the outspoken white guy Barry (Nigel Lindsay), his dimwitted cousin Waj (Kayvan Novak) and perhaps an even more dimwitted friend Fessal (Adeel Akhtar). They are determined to pull off a terrorist attack in Britain that everyone will remember – and send a message to the Western world. But these bumbling idiots cannot seem to get anything right. Omar and Waj travel to Pakistan to attend an Al Qaeda training camp – but quickly run afoul of the guys in charge because of Waj’s insistence to try and look tough. Desperate to prove themselves, they try and take down an American spy plane with a rocket launcher – but point it in the wrong direction.
Back home, the find out that Barry has recruited a new member Hassan (Arsher Ali) – who raps about his jihadist feelings. Barry has a plan to carry out a bombing at the local mosque – to radicalize the moderates and get them to rise up against their oppressors. Omar thinks this is ridiculous, and comes up with a better plan.
One of the remarkable things about Four Lions is that performances in the movie feel just right. Given the material, it could not have been easy. Riz Ahmed is at the heart of every scene, and unlike the others in his group he is not stupid. His rage is real, but he feels powerless to stop what he sees as the injustices around him. He is determined to carry out his suicide mission – and shockingly has the full support of his wife, who like supportive wives in movies since the beginning of history, encourages her husband to follow his dreams. Kayvan Novak is just as good as Waj – he is so sweet and simple minded, it is impossible not to feel sorry for him as he tries his best to act tough. He is also perhaps the moral center of the movie – the one who really questions what they are doing. Nigel Lindsay is hilarious as Barry, who is so full of idiotic rage, so full of tangents that make no sense that you cannot help but laugh when he tries to explain them (his best moment comes when he decides to prove a point by punching himself in the face – it doesn’t go as well as he hoped). The other two members of the group, played by Adeel Akhtar and Arsher Ali don’t have as much to do but get some good moments themselves.
Four Lions is a movie that follows its premise right to the grisly end. I admit when I starting watching the film, I never expected it to go as far as it does. It just didn’t seem plausible for a movie about Muslim terrorists to do get away with what this film does. Yet, the film really does follow its premise right down to the wire.
I’m not sure the ending of the film quite works. The film had walked a delicate tightrope for most of its running time between satire, black comedy and a comedy of the ridiculous. The ending, I think, pulls these elements a little too far apart - tries to do a little too much at the same time. Yet, I feel that the film is still one of the most daring of the year. How many films ask you to see Muslim terrorists as people, and not just fanatics? And how many of the ones that do, wrap it up in a brilliant satire and hilarious comedy at the same time? Four Lions is a film that I find myself thinking about because it seems completely one of a kind. I’m sure many will have moral objections to the film, and it’s not something I really can argue with. This is a film that will honestly offend many people. Yet, I appreciate it for attempting what it does – and the fact that it pulls it off as well as it does. Four Lions is a film you should see if for no other reason than so you can debate it afterwards.