Four Lions

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It’s a dexterously mischievous comedy that ensures you are missing two gags whilst doubling up in hysterics at the first. Along with the machine-gun dialogue, more subtle juxtapositions are constructed for their ironic jocularity.

Four Lions

Directed by Chris Morris

The enigmatic Chris Morris has something of a cult following in the UK, for many of his disciples it’s been too long since the unique vision of one of the most efferous of media figures has been seen on terrestrial screens so the news that Morris was instead constructing his big screen debut that would be tackling the controversial theme of Islamic Terror was warmly welcomed by devotees as a return to subject matter with more of a current affairs dimension, particularly in light of the lukewarm reception of the underrated Nathan Barley series. Having cut his razor-sharp satirical skills on a series of radio stations throughout the late eighties and early nineties Morris formed a central strut of a great era of UK comedy around the turn of that decade, along with his contemporaries Steve Coogan, Patrick Marber, Armando Iannucci, Julia Davies and Peter Baynham (last seen as a writer on both the Bruno and Borat movies) going on to define a particularly intellectual and confrontational strain of humour that revelled in a surrealistic grappling of wordplay, capriciously exenterating the political, cultural and moral hypocrisies of contemporary life – it’s a comedic phase that England has not  bettered since. Whilst American TV seems to thrive on producing controversial and so-called ‘challenging’ TV material at the moment whilst their cinema remains mostly meek and subservient to the powers that be, a position reversed in the UK where the domestic TV geniuses can’t get commissioned due to concerns with causing offence to Mr. Disgusted of Milton Keynes and therefore turn to the big screen to reach an audience. Is Four Lions the In The Loop of 2010, just to pre-empt the media pigeonholing? Well, it’s certainly as farcical as Iannucci’s recent triumph, for shorthand purposes its Spinal Tap meets Syrianna, by far the funniest comedy of the year so far – it’s quite simply a blast.

Imagine if you will a comedic examination of the four lunatics who conducted the 7/7 London Underground bombings, their fanatic beliefs and inspiration, their maniac ideology all explored and exploded with gelastic glee. Cell leader Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the head of a bumbling jihadist cell in Northern England, his partners in crime being the mentally challenged Hassan (Archer Ali), the vaguely bewildered Waj (Kayvan Novak) and my favourite of the bunch, the conspiracy spouting Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a Caucasian convert to the crusade against Western debauchery, an evangelical berserker who blames the mechanical failures of his car on ‘Jewish spark-plugs’. Whilst Omar and Hassan make a buffoonish trip to a Pakistan training camp Barry is secretly at work on his own ambitious plans for a homespun jihad, the masterstroke of which being the bombing of his own mosque to inspire the dormant, beguiled Muslim brothers to arise and take up arms against the wretched kaffars. After the foreign mission is abandoned in the wake of an accidental bombing of their own camp Omar decides to lead his bickering colleagues on a domestic targeted atrocity, selecting the London marathon as the ideal target for an impressive ‘spectacular’ that should ensure their elevation to Jannat paradise….

It seems obvious why the film got such confused reactions out of its Sundance premiere in January – it’s a very British picture populated with British slang, UK cultural references and Northern England accents which even we native Englishmen find difficult to follow at certain points. It’s a dexterously mischievous comedy that ensures you are missing two gags whilst doubling up in hysterics at the first. as well as the machine-gun dialogue more subtle juxtapositions are constructed for their ironic jocularity. The opening scene presents Hassan ineptly recording his post-bombing video message to the unbelievers, a task being constantly interrupted by his bickering cellmates complaining about the size of his AK47. Omar reviews and edits his political rants against poisonous consumerism and the empty, vacuous ideologies of the West on his sparkly new Laptop in his modern four bedroom semi-detached dwelling, Barry’s absurd speeches on Christian hegemony and his conspiracy theorist clamor appear grow increasingly manic, at certain points appearing to elope out of a David Icke soliloquy. Whilst the emphasis is on the demented jihadists the forces of the State don’t escape from the film unscathed with glowering incompetence being seen as endemic on both sides of the holy war – it may sound incongruous but one sequence which I won’t ruin here involves the best Wookie gag in celluloid history.

Morris has been researching the project for almost four years, delving into the murky realms of Muslim extremism by developing a network of friends and colleagues which enabled him to interview members of the security services and prospective jihadists, gathering a balance of knowledge that was fed into the carefully crafted and reverently scrutinized film. This commitment to balance and accuracy will no doubt be glossed over in favour of some inevitable accusations of racism once the film gets its full release, no doubt these will emanate from the ignorant cretins of all religious beliefs and skin tones, as Morris said ‘You don’t have to mock Islamic beliefs to make a joke about someone who wants to run the world under sharia law but can’t apply it in his home because his wife won’t let him’. The British tabloid press and their predictable moral outrage headlines almost write themselves although the film may slip under the radar of the General Election aftermath and World Cup preparations, one hopes not as any altercation will inevitably drive up ticket sales. Morris is no stranger to controversy having made one of the most complained about programme in UK Television – the paedophilia baiting episode of his cult satire Brass Eye – and one can imagine the moral majority gleefully welcoming the opportunity to ejaculate their parochial, inaccurate and jingoistic opinions into the bloated womb of the mediaverse, missing the slightly larger point that perhaps killing people is not the best and most constructive way to convince people to adopt your opinions. Four Lions is a thoroughly entertaining parade of absurdity, an attack on the ideological vacuum of political violence, a big screen debut that proves that Chris Morris has arrived in theatres with a bang.

– John McEntee

1 Comment
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