Four Lions

Four LionsSynopsis: A whip-smart, slapstick comedy, Chris Morris’ Four Lions takes aim at Jihadi suicide bombers and illuminates the war on terror through satire and farce. Follow five inept aspiring terrorists on their quest to strike a blow, and how they demonstrate that terrorism may be about ideology, but it can also be about idiots.

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Four Lions 8.0

eyelights: the cast. the humour.
eyesores: the unclear intentions of the filmmakers.

“I think I’m confused, but I’m not sure!”

‘Four Lions’ is a 2010 British film that satirizes the rise of the homegrown terrorist. It follows the exploits of four Muslim men who aspire to start a Jihad. In London. Unfortunately for them, they are utterly inept and incapable of success: they get kicked out of a training camp in Pakistan, blow up sheep by mistake, and get themselves in all sorts of trouble.

The humour rests entirely on the dialogues and performances; the characters are classic bumbling idiots, and the comedy derives from the breadth of their idiocy. What I found interesting is that the film doesn’t poke fun at their aims or their religion. In fact, it juxtaposes them with other Muslims to give us perspective on what truly ails them.

Having said this, it does poke fun at their motivations. Whereas the group’s leader, Omar, complains about consumerism and imperialism, he’s ironically living a very comfy life with his spouse, with all the trappings that consumerism allows. And the lot of them all seek a glory (or infamy, really) that they can’t seem to find in their daily lives.

Omar works as a security guard, a job he has a difficult time holding on to (how he can afford his lifestyle is a mystery), Waj is a dimwit who’s easily convinced, Barry is an disgruntled convert, and Faisal is a tinkerer. Hassan, a young man who sees Tupac as a guiding light, soon joins them. They see very little hope in their existence, no escape.

Except the Jihad.

The film was brought to my attention by a dear friend of mine who had seen it while visiting in Britain. She had found it funny but was curious to know what her peeps back home would think of it. After many months, we were all finally in the same place at the same time, and we elected to watch it. It was an experience that no doubt none of us will forget.

The first issue with the picture is that it’s hard to say what the intention was. While the filmmaker never makes fun of Muslims per se, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves why he would target this group for his picture, aside for the fact that it’s topical and/or controversial. After all, homegrown terrorism has existed for decades – at least since the sixties.

So what was he doing? Was he trying to poke fun at it to diffuse an otherwise tense modern reality? Or was he perpetuating a cultural stereotype irresponsibly? It’s hard to say because it wasn’t openly offensive in any way – everyone, even the cops, are idiots. And writer-director Morris is said to have consulted experts and Muslims for years to strike a balance.

Still, it’s confounding when you watch the film, because you don’t know if you should be laughing. It doesn’t help that the British accents are so thick and that we aren’t familiar with the expressions they use, so we were missing tons of subtleties, jokes and culturally-significant details. And the damned DVD only had Spanish subtitles (and the close captioning didn’t work)!

But we laughed anyway. A lot. This is a classic farce, and if you change the context (make them bank robbers, for instance), you would get most of the same laughs because the jokes are really about the guys’ ineptitude. In fact, a similar brand of humour has been found in cinema for a long time now – it’s just that it’s not usually found in this hyper-sensitive context, that’s all.

(One that likely has my blog now screened by organizations I don’t even want to think about, I should note.)

The fact is that ‘Four Lions’ is a really well-made picture, and this makes it far superior to its peers. The performances are ace, the script is perfectly-honed, the gags are funny, the pace is smooth, and the film looks good – even the special effects work well (at least, on the small screen). Honestly, I would easily buy this and watch it again. many times over.

Because, if anything, for all its loaded subject matter, ‘Four Lions’ made me laugh. It’s hard to watch the absurdity it’s loaded with and not to – even if it takes on a subject that is difficult to address with humour. I don’t think everything is open game for comedy – but many things are, when approached in the right way. In this case, ‘Four Lions’ walked a fine line.

And appears to have succeeded spectacularly well.

Nota bene: My rating would likely change if I understood the dialogues and cultural significance of what was being said more. If I found any of it offensive or insensitive, I would drop it a little bit. But it could also go higher, should there be more gags that I missed. Maybe someday someone will release a home video edition with subtitles – heck, maybe even detailed subtitles, like in ‘Wakeful Nights‘.

Date of viewing: October 13, 2014

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