Review: Four Lions
PLOT: Omar (Riz Ahmed), is a young Muslim man living in England who, after a clumsy trip to a Jihadist training camp in Pakistan, decides to martyr himself for the cause. He enlists his pals Waj (Kayvan Novak), Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), Hassan (Arsher Ali) and convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay) to join him as suicide bombers. Oh, and by the way, this is a comedy.
REVIEW: One wouldn't necessarily think suicide bombers would be a subject ripe for parody, but director Chris Morris has really done the impossible here, and made a film about suicide-bombers that's not only thought-provoking, but also kinda hilarious.
Of course, going into FOUR LIONS, I had grave reservations about the plot, particularly in light of this being a comedy. Surely it would be a tasteless affair, but the early buzz has been incredibly good. Indeed, FOUR LIONS deserves all the acclaim it's received over the last few months as this is truly an incredible film that stands as one of the finest I've seen this year. It's a satire in the tradition of DR. STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB, just as many have claimed, but to me, this is actually more than that. Now don't get me wrong, DR. STRANGELOVE is a masterpiece, but FOUR LIONS does something that film didn't do. It makes me empathize with the characters, who, by their very nature- should be people I'd find despicable.
That's really the magic of FOUR LIONS. It makes these terrorists not only likable, but lovable. Director Morris obviously wants you to care about Omar, and co., and by the time the climax rolls around, you'll adore them- which makes the last ten minutes of the film absolutely devastating. Days after watching it, I still can't get the film out of my head.
Now, I'm probably making it seem that FOUR LIONS is some deep, depressing film- but it's not. Actually, it's one of the funniest films I've seen in a while (or at least since IN THE LOOP, another strong English satire). It's a brilliantly cast, and conceived film. It starts off with a video diary being shot of a potential terrorist, but something seems off, and soon we hear the videographer, who turns out to be our “hero” Omar, shouting off screen that the gun is too small, and that the terrorist isn't scary enough. From there we cut to his home, where he's editing the film on his laptop, and showing it to his adoring wife and son- claiming that the parts that don't work are bloopers.
Omar is a fantastic character, brilliantly played by UK comic Riz Ahmed, in one of the best comedic performances I've seen in years. Omar would seem like a perfectly assimilated, moderate Muslim to anyone meeting him, as he's a loving husband that treats his wife like an equal, ridicules his Sharia law observing brother, and seems perfectly content living in the UK. Yet, he's still a radicalized suicide bomber, and why is never really explained (nor should it be).
As it's portrayed in the film, Omar's quest to become a suicide bomber is actually treated as a kind of underdog story, and you're ALMOST rooting for him at times. His wife cheerfully supports his mission, and his adoring son wants to grow up to be just like his father (which I guess presumes he's a potential terrorist of the future), with his dad explaining his role as bomber using THE LION KING as a metaphor.
The rest of his gang is a tad more two dimensional, with all of them being a little less sharp than the already dim Omar; particularly the simple-minded Faisal, who wants to use booby-trapped crows to wreak havoc on the Western world. Yet, they all remain so disturbingly likable, and the only one who comes close to being villainous is the white Muslim convert, Barry (Migel Lindsay), who clutches to fundamentalism as a way to cover up his own stupidity.
I really can't overstate how much of a brilliant debut this is for director Chris Morris, who's a well-known satirist in the UK, with this being his feature-debut. You can tell that FOUR LIONS probably had a limited budget, but Morris uses this to his advantage, making us feel almost like we're a fly on the wall observing these future bombers, with lots of hand held camera work, and the occasional cut to CCTV footage, which pays off incredibly well toward the end. There's also no musical score, which completely drains any artificiality out of the film, and helps maintain the docu-drama feel (although I'd hesitate to label this a mokumentary).
Suffice to say, I found FOUR LIONS to be a breathtakingly original piece of satire, that deserves to take it's place alongside DR.STRANGELOVE and MASH. Of course, not everyone will be keen on watching a comedy about suicide-bombers, but to those of you with reservations, I assure you- this works. It's truly an incredible piece of work, and something that needs to been seen, and actually feels essential. It's truly, for better or worse, a film of our times. It's also one that, more than any I've seen in a long time, truly blurs the line between comedy and tragedy.