Sunday, October 17, 2010

Four Lions

Film: Four Lions (2010)
Dir: Chris Morris
Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Cinema’s greatest satires have often been made while the issue at hand was still fresh and audiences were sensitive to it. Just as Dr. Strangelove satirized the Cold War as it was going on, Four Lions parodies Islamic extremists, as well as the Western world’s prejudice against Muslims. The timing could not be better, especially with the recent controversy over a mosque being built near Ground Zero. This is not a film for easily offended people – it may be politically accurate but it is not politically correct. The film does not pull its punches against either side, and it manages to make you laugh at things that would normally make you shudder. There is also a surprising amount of emotion peeking through the dark satire.

Omar (Riz Ahmed) is a British-born man of the Muslim faith who runs a small jihadist cell in London. He believes that Muslims around the world are being oppressed, and to help the problem he must become a soldier or even a martyr. After a failed attempt at joining a terrorist training camp, Omar plots to send a message by staging a bombing in London. This proves to be no easy task as Omar’s jihadist mates are morons, each having a different idea about how to fight their non-Muslim oppressors. Among them is Barry (Nigel Lindsay), an angry white Islamic convert; Waj (Kayvan Novak), a dim-witted follower; Fessal (Adeel Akhtar), a skittish bomb-maker; and Hassan (Arsher Ali), a young wannabe terrorist/rapper.

The dark humor in Four Lions is consistent and effective. Some of it might make you feel guilty for laughing, but you will laugh nevertheless. Each character is hilarious in his own way, plus the inherent satire is ever-present. Whether you are giggling at the idiotic antics of these men, or smirking at the socio-political irony throughout, you will not be bored. Upon first viewing, I missed quite a few jokes because the characters’ British accents are thick and they talk so fast, but I still laughed loud and often. I cannot wait to watch it again – perhaps with the English subtitles on next time.

Although you may be laughing at these failed wannabe terrorists, the film does not insult the Muslim faith, nor does it justify American and British treatment of Muslims. Each character is likable and sympathetic. You can tell they truly believe what they are doing is right. Still, the movie exposes the flaws in extremists’ logic via satire. It also explores the way non-violent Muslims are often discriminated against because of their extremist counterparts. The film is surprisingly touching and undeniably clever. The script was written by the same guys who penned In the Loop, the hilarious political farce from last year. The two films have a lot in common in terms of humor, mood, and how completely spot-on the satire is.

The screenwriters are not the only ones to thank for the funny, likable anti-heroes – all the actors involved are great. They are never two-dimensional stereotypes or cheap gags. You cannot help but care about these characters, even though your first instinct is to hate them, especially if you are an American. Ahmed and Novak give especially sympathetic performances, as their characters are the least influenced by narcissism or selfishness. Omar genuinely believes in what he is doing, and Waj just wants to be like his friend.

Four Lions is a stellar feature film debut for director Chris Morris. Terrorism is not an easy topic to tackle, but Morris and the screenwriters handle it with tact and fairness, while never sacrificing honesty or humor. The film is powerful, hilarious, moving, and an absolute must-see.


Hitmandj said...

Great review, Great movie. Definitely need to see it again to get more of the jokes as you said there were a couple times their accents were hard to understand what they'd say.