A group of four disparate and half-way desperate suburban British suicide bombers - Omar (Riz Ahmed), Hassan (Arsher Ali), Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and Waj (Kayvan Novak) - push their abstract dreams of Jihadi glory to the breaking point. But the wheels fall off, their competing ideologies clash and their mission flounders.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Hailed as the funniest Jihadi comedy since . . . well, ever, Four Lions is a black comedy produced (appropriately enough) by the sinewy low budget gang at Warp Films, responsible for films like Dead Man's Shoes and Donkey Punch. With the conceptual drive of acclaimed British writer/director/satirist and performer Chris Morris, the film has mined a treasure trove of stupidity in the Jihad as waged by men who are committed - or rather, who should be committed, on the grounds of inanity. "The unfathomable world of extremism seemed to contain elements of farce," he says in the notes. He has done his research.
The result is certainly edgy and pushes the envelope; it is often darkly funny and sometimes bizarrely sad, but it is always focused. The four self styled lions have blunted claws and their roar is a pathetic whinge. The most extreme of the four is the suburban Englishman Barry (Nigel Lindsay) who has grown the required beard (but it's the wrong colour of course) and spouts vehement violence and aggro. That's required lingo, the men often inventing colourful insults that remind us of the expletive-charged In the Loop, another British satire, that one about the power-mutts around Washington and Whitehall who are also incompetent and dangerous.
Four Lions plays like a kitchen sink drama in which the characters reveal themselves by their small but repeated acts of stupidity or failure - but it's never overdone enough to lose our interest. Their mistakes are perhaps no greater than our own in daily life, but our mission is more likely to be to get the domestics finished, not get the domestic Muslims in an uproar. That sort of strategy (espoused by Barry) is especially hard to explain to the other three lions.
It isn't always uproaringly funny, but it has enough comic business (and a few barbs aimed at cops and the establishment) to deliver the goods. To its credit, the film doesn't try to find some sort of political balance or moral equivalence. Yet it doesn't demonise the four fools, it ridicules their processes. Four Lions is a unique piece of cinema and audiences keen on contempo satire with no holds barred will be amused.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
Review by Louise Keller:
From the ludicrous to the tragic, Four Lions is a bit of a hit and miss affair, churning jihadism through the mincer of satire. When it scores a hit, it's very funny; when it flops, it just fizzles. Director Chris Morris' ambitious film is brashly irreverent in tone as it confronts us with the bizarre, the disturbing and blatantly farcical elements as four Muslim men living in London decide to take a stand on their disillusionment. This is a film for those who revel in confrontation and enjoy pushing the boundaries of social niceties. Finding that fine line between reality and gravity is a tough call and Morris lets his fancies fly as this often confronting, occasionally incomprehensible and sometimes confusing film spits out sparks of brilliance that fly high and swing low.
Truth is always weirder than fiction, so when Morris read about real-life examples of terrorist activity gone awry, he was inspired. It's not hard to imagine the kind of mishaps that could be encountered by a group of men of set beliefs, wanting to become suicide bombers. Eating mobile phone sim cards, buying large quantities of liquid peroxide using different voices, a misfire of a rocket launcher in Pakistan, blowing up sheep by mistake, a car with Jewish parts, watching outtakes for a terrorist video... these are examples of the kind of situations we encounter during the course of the film. I found some of the dialogue difficult to understand, especially in the first half of the film and the jerky camera work irritated me endlessly.
Also jerky (no doubt intentionally) is the arc of the script, written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, but things more or less come together during the London Marathon, when our hapless protagonists don animal costumes over their bombs, in a farcical series of events and chases. Several characters have a few bob missing up top and the scenes when one suicide bomber confuses the police negotiator are well done indeed. It is quite an incongruous sight watching men ready to blow themselves up dressed up as creatures as diverse as a giant ninja turtle, a bird and an upside down clown. If nothing else, Morris' film gives us plenty to think about, having been given such an acute angled perspective on a seriously difficult topic.
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FOUR LIONS (M)
CAST: Riz Ahmed, Asher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Adeel Akhtar, Julia Davis, Chris Wilson, Preeya Kalidas, Benedict Cumberbatch, Wasim Zakir, Mohammad Aqil
PRODUCER: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger
DIRECTOR: Christopher Morris
SCRIPT: Christopher Morris, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain (and Simon Blackwell)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lol Crawley
EDITOR: Billy Sneddon
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dick Lunn
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 19, 2010