Review by Jack Foley
CHRIS Morris has variously been labelled a fearless comedy genius and the most hated man in Britain following the success and furore that came with his Brass Eye TV series.
Now, some years later, he’s set to provoke furious debate again with provocative terrorist cell comedy Four Lions.
Designed to make you think as much as laugh, the ensuing dramedy makes for bold, uneasy viewing that’s only partially successful at both.
It follows the attempts by five extremists to form a terrorist cell and strike a blow for Islam at the heart of Britain. Leading them is Omar (Riz Ahmed), a radicalised Brit with a wife and daughter, while making up the troop are his brother Waj (Kayvan Novak), angry white convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay), would-be rapper Hassan (Arsher Ali) and reluctant bomb-maker Fessal (Adeel Akhtar).
The ensuing story follows them from a Pakistani training camp to their return to Britain as they eventually identify a surprise target and put their plan into play.
Morris, for his part, can lay claim to having extensively researched the issue and insists that his film exists to show that terrorism is as much about ideology as it is about “berks”.
He cites the example of five jihadis who planned to ram a US warship with a launch full of bombs, only to find their plot ruined when their boat sank, as an example of such stupidity.
And it’s hard to argue with his ‘intelligence’ given that the pre-release response has also come with the reported blessings of viewers such as 7/7 survivors, former Guantanamo Bay convicts and members of the Islamic faith.
But the question remains just how much humour can be extrated from something as serious – in consequence – as terrorism. It’s equally as sensitive as his notorious paedophile episode.
For those with an open mind – and it’s advisable to see the film before criticising it – Four Lions offers a keen mix of drama and comedy that asks some probing questions of its audience, while keeping them entertained.
Morris’ cast is uniformly excellent, with Lindsay’s Barry, Ahmed’s conflicted leader and Novak’s idiotic Waj, standing out. And all manage to lend their characters a sense of authenticity that stop just short of making them too endearing.
But in making them flesh and blood, the cast does provoke the question of why these men are doing what they are doing, and what we can do to combat them.
The set piece comedy moments, meanwhile, are cruelly and uncomfortably funny… sometimes just plain slapstick, sometimes observational but astute enough to leave you thinking as well as chuckling aloud.
And in doing both, Morris and his writing team deserve applause for the way in which the big moments come at cost… but there still remain those nagging doubts that this particular field should be left a no-go area.
As funny as some lines undoubtedly are, there are also many more that fail to deliver the required impact.
Taken as a whole, therefore, Four Lions is far more insightful than a lot of mainstream Hollywood action blockbusters that aspire to inform viewers about world events, while keeping them entertained… and it does have a handful of extremely funny moments.
But it’s not as brilliant as political satires such as In The Loop and is a little too brash for its own good.
The overall feeling is that it’s a film to be approached with caution. It will offend… and it will be criticised as much as it’s hailed as another work of genius [by Morris devotees].
It’s also worth seeing if only to be part of the debate. But the important thing is to make sure you actually do see it before entering that conversation!
Running time: 102mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: August 30, 2010