Nov 12 2010
Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.
The film Four Lions is about a group of British jihadis who are committed to setting off bombs to sow death, destruction, and possibly the seeds of an Islamic uprising in England. And it’s a comedy.
Director Chris Morris is no stranger to controversy, sometimes referred to as “the sickest man in Britain” after directing a fake news special mocking England’s hysteria over pedophiles. So it’s only natural that Morris would go after another source of statistically irrational fear — the Muslim terrorist next door. Only you wouldn’t have much to fear from the would-be jihadis in Four Lions who are, to put it kindly, idiots. And there are actually five of them.
Technically the smartest of the group is Omar, played by Riz Ahmed, a security guard of Pakistani descent with a loving, liberated wife and a young son. But Omar also has anger over the post 9/11 invasions of Muslim nations and the decadence and materialism of Western culture, so with his family’s support, he has committed himself to jihad, even, or especially if it means a martyr’s death.
Unfortunately for Omar, his compatriots won’t be much help. His closest friend, Waj, played by Kayvan Novak, is so dim that he can’t even tell the difference between a chicken and a rabbit. Faisal, played by Adeel Akhtar, knows how to make bombs, but wants to attach them to crows to fly into targets. Barry, played by Nigel Lindsay, is the most militant of the group, probably stemming from the fact that he’s actually a white convert to Islam. The fifth of the four lions, Hassan, played by Arsher Ali, is a college student recruited by Barry who would rather rap about jihad than actually fight one.
Morris manages to pull off something extraordinarily difficult in Four Lions, getting you to like, sympathize with, and laugh at terrorists bent on killing civilians. That’s because Morris, who was inspired by an article about a comically failed suicide bombing, understands a truth that is largely ignored by politicians, pundits, and the media — that terrorists are people, too. Which, in the case of Four Lions, means that they fall victim to the same potentially comedic problems found in any small group — squabbles over leadership and the direction of the group, managing different personalities, and what to do when lofty goals are thwarted by lack of intelligence and ability. After all these are guys who think they can avoid surveillance by eating their phone’s SIM cards and constantly shaking their heads so photos of their faces turn out blurry.
And while keeping you laughing, Four Lions has a lot to say about these potential attackers we fear so much. Namely that many of them are not Islamic fanatics or desperate, brainwashed disciples, but fairly regular, albeit dim people who want to strike back at injustice, do something important with their lives, be part of something bigger than themselves and strive for glory, the same motivations of many who join the military. And like most enthusiastic young men who go to war, or in the case of Four Lions, when they put their plan in motion to bomb the London marathon using explosives hidden in ridiculous costumes, by the time they grasp the gravity, moral ambiguity and bloody reality of their commitment, it’s too late to turn back. But amazingly, Four Lions will keep you laughing all the way there.
Four Lions is rated R and is in limited release now.