Monday, April 22, 2013
Four Lions (2010) **1/2
It is difficult to believe that Four Lions (2010) is director Christopher Morris’ first feature film, because it is steady and focused. Morris is primarily known in England for his work on the mock news program The Day Today (1994), where he wrote and read some of the funniest news ever to cross the airwaves of the BBC. If you’re an American and you haven’t heard of this film don’t feel like you’ve been living under a rock. You see, this is a rather controversial film—a satirical comedy about homegrown British jihadists. It was difficult enough to get Channel 4 or the BBC to get behind the project (eventually Film 4 Productions and Warp Films came on board), it was even more difficult to find a U.S. distributor—it took nine months, and even then it found a VERY limited release. Why?
The movie is about five young Muslim men who become determined to commit jihad on their homeland—England. Never were there five men on earth less suited for such an endeavor. The leader of the group, Omar (Riz Ahmed), is a husband and father who tells his son jihad bedtime stories with Simba from The Lion King starring as the martyr. He aligns himself with four of the biggest losers ever: Waj (Kayvan Novak), a half-wit who takes his cell phone to a jihad training camp; Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), a man who tries to train crows to carry bombs; Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a white convert who thinks that if you swallow your SIM card your cell phone can’t be tracked; and, Hassan (Arsher Ali), a would-be rapper of jihad. Basically, they are the Five Stooges of Jihad.
I’m sure there are many people who think it’s not okay to make a satirical film about jihad—and, that’s their right—but I think that if you can make a TV show like Hogan’s Heroes or a film like or To Be or Not to Be then you can make a film like this. It’s irreverent, topical, and hilarious. Omar has the perfect family—a beautiful wife (Preeya Kalidas) and an adoring son—and is gainfully employed. Yet, he is a also a critic of Western society—the same man who tell his son the Simba jihad bedtime story and allows his wife to work in a hospital. It doesn’t fit. Then, you have Hassan, a university student who devises his jihad video to include this rap: “I'm the Mujahedeen and I'm making a scene / Now you's gonna feel what the boom-boom means / It's like Tupac said, "When I die, I'm not dead"/ We are the martyrs, you're just smashed tomatoes / Allah Akbar!” How serious can this man be? But the worst has to be Barry—a man so insanely wrong about everything that he says things like, “You can't win an argument just by being right.” This is the same man who tells his co-conspirators that if they shake their heads from side-to-side quickly that surveillance cameras won’t be able to capture their images. This is the man who wants to be the leader?
Shot in an almost documentary style, the film reminds me of This Is Spinal Tap (1984) or Borat (2007), but it’s not a mockumentary but a satirical commentary about one of England’s closest held fears—homegrown jihadists doing things like the 7/7 London bombings. While this film came out five years after that horrific day, its topic is still a sore spot for many in the nation. I wonder what some people felt when they watched the final sequences of this movie, where the four surviving men (or the four lions) dress up in costumes (Teenage Mutant Turtle, Honey Monster, an Ostrich that looks like it has a giant penis, and a really idiotic Clown) and attempt to blow-up the London marathon. Could this really happen? Surely idiots like these would be detected before it got that far…
There is no doubt that the movie is funny. It might make some people uncomfortable to watch it, let alone laugh at it, but I think it is worth a look. In the words of Will Durst, “Comedy is defiance. It's a snort of contempt in the face of fear and anxiety. And it's the laughter that allows hope to creep back on the inhale.”