Chris Morris is an English comic genius. In the ‘90s, he helped create the hilariously irreverent news parodies The Day Today and Brass Eye and dark comedy radio nightmare Blue Jam. He wasn’t quite as active in the ‘00s, however, opting to stay quiet and work in secret.
And then in 2009, Morris released his first feature film.
As controversial as ever (the Brass Eye episode about pedophilia and all of Blue Jam attracted much negative attention), Morris’s directorial debut Four Lions deals with a modern topic that most of us have seen in the news often: Islam jihadi terrorism. All the more relevant today thanks to recent events, Morris’s film takes a look at exactly why the radicalized Muslims of Britain want to strike fear into the hearts of the world – and whether they can do so without completely screwing everything else up. It’s about a group of four radical British Muslim friends who want to be suicide bombers. Only one of them – Omar – appears even vaguely competent. His cousin Waj is a confused one who always has to consult Omar before he does anything at all. Barry, a white guy who’s converted to Islam, is extremely rash and hot-tempered. And their friend Faisal is a naive dummy who only trusts Barry and tries all sorts of odd schemes to enhance the group’s terrorism, including training crows to be used as suicide bombers.
The film is shot in a pseudo-documentary style like Parks and Recreation or The Office, minus the interviews, and follows the group as they attempt to plan an attack of epic proportions and establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. This of course fails miserably – they try to make tapes in the style of Al-Qaeda communications, but keep running into technical and aesthetic glitches. (“We can’t use that shot, your gun’s too small!”) Two of them go to a Pakistan training camp and manage to get the attention of a drone. And they clash on almost every issue imaginable – for example, Barry wants to blow up a mosque to “radicalise the moderates”, but when Omar presents him with some very good reasons why not to, Barry responds, “Well, you cannot win an argument just by being right.”
The film, while dealing with a heavy topic like terrorism and the fact that these characters are all willing and able to die for their cause, manages to stay rather lighthearted and upbeat throughout, which is why I love it. Even when death is on the line, there’s something to laugh at. There’s obviously an air of poignance to it at times – as there always is when there’s a distinct possibility that the protagonists might all die – but it still manages to remain silly and fun all the way through. The characters are all well-defined and funny, especially Barry and his far-fetched ideas. There’s even a sing-along scene.
Four Lions is a fantastic satire of terrorism and the pick-and-choose approach the characters have to theology, as well as of the authorities trying to prevent terrorism from happening. Packed from end to end with quotable moments (“I’m not confused! I just took a picture of my face and it’s deffo not my confused face!”) and making the characters silly but entirely real and human, it’s a smart, hilarious satire of those that could – but probably won’t – set the world on fire in their attempts to scare us.
Four Lions is currently available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital from Drafthouse Films.