Synopsis: Four incompetent British jihadists set out to train for and commit an act of terror…with hilarious consequences
So………… it turns out you can make a comedy about suicide bombers trying to plan an act of terror. And when I say “you” I mean literally the only person that could do that; British comedic legend and right-wing tabloid baiting satirist Chris Morris. Anyone else, anywhere else, I don’t think would have had the balls to do it in the first place. Nor the unique skill set he poses to take incredibly dark subjects at the heart of the political or social Zeitgeist and not so much poke fun at them, but smash them in the face with a huge, blunt satirical stick.
Anyone who has seen Chris Morris’s earlier work will know the man embodies a uniquely British sense of humour. To describe it as dry is like describing the Arctic as a bit chilly. His humour is not so much dry as it is arid. He also has a pair of balls so large he could hire them out as demolition balls to subsidise his income. Within the British comedy scene he is somewhat of a dark enigma that has had a hand in the launching of mainstream comedy actors like Simon Pegg and Steve Coogan. Comedians love working with him. Satirical writers like Simon Blackwell (In The Loop, The Thick Of It) and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, Fresh Meat) love writing with and for him.
The reason he is so loved and hated in equal measures is his unique comic talent to identify the subject of hysteria and fear in British society and then satirise the living shit out of the people that get swept up in them. Most famously he endured a huge media backlash for an episode he did about paedophilia for his cult-hit TV show Brass Eye in 2001. Those that are in on the joke understand he isn’t trivialising the subject matter, but pointing out the ridiculousness of the media and public over-reaction. Those that don’t get it think he is trivialising the subject matter and should be burnt at the stake for crimes against humanity. These people tend to be the same people he is satirising. Chris Morris is, in no uncertain terms, divisive.
I remember thinking at the time of first hearing Four Lions was in production “hmmmmmmmm this could all go horribly wrong”. It was only 5 years after 7/7. The wounds were still relatively fresh. Extremist radicalisation and suicide bombing is not a hotbed of comic possibilities. The trick to making the characters engaging in these reprehensible acts of terror sympathetic and funny? Humanise them and make them completely inept. Which is why it could only have been him that could find humour and sympathy in a group of wannabe Jihadists in the British Midlands, a notorious hotbed for extremist activity in the UK. He understands that the best way to deal with the things that scare us is not to demonise it but make it so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh at it. It’s a very British way of dealing with our issues.
Imagine four Mr Beans trying to plan a suicide bombing campaign and you’re someway close. Led by the one member with any brains or sense of planning Omar (Riz Ahmed) the other four members are idiot half-wit Waj (Kayvan Novak) who is so stupid he takes a picture of his face to see if he is making his confused face in order to determine if he is, in fact, confused; dimwit prankster-rapper Hassan (Arsher Ali) who is only there because his dad is loaded and he can get them a van; slow-wit Faisel (Adeel Akhtar) whose grand plan is to strap bombs to crows and make them fly into buildings; and fuck-wit Barry (Nigel Lindsay) a white Muslim convert with anger management issues who thinks he is the leader of the group and is determined to blow up a Mosque to start an uprising. They are, it has to be said, a sorry group of individuals who couldn’t plan a kids birthday party.
The sheer ineptitude of the five leads makes for some brilliant moments of physical comedy and exchanges between them that you get the sense were partly improvised. Waj suggesting they blow up the internet; Faisel inadvertently blowing up a sheep; Omar trying to shoot down a drone with an RPG at a Pakistani training camp leading to a good old fashioned sight gag; two SWAT officers arguing about whether a Wookie is a bear after accidentally shooting someone dressed like one; and Barry generally getting himself worked into a frenzy trying to convince everyone he is a tactical genius. Everyone, including the Police, are bumbling buffoons. No-one comes out looking good.
Morris makes what they are doing feel like normality and never more so than the times we see Omar at home with his wife and child discussing their plans, critiquing their efforts at making Jihadi videos and his plans for martyrdom. It’s a jarring situation that takes a moment to adjust to. In fact the whole thing takes some time to allow you to feel comfortable laughing without feeling guilty. Not every joke lands. The final third set during the London Marathon allows Morris to take the silly to another level that at times stretches credibility for what the guys have gotten themselves into. Although the visual gag of them running around dressed as an Upside Down Clown, The Honey Monster, an Ostrich and a Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle makes up for any gaping plot holes.
Conclusion: A very funny and original way of diffusing a subject most people wouldn’t touch with a comedy stick. People from outside the UK, or even those from within who struggle with local accents, may struggle hear everything that is said, but I would recommend watching with subtitles rather than avoiding or missing bits. Proves there is farce in everything if you know how and where to find it.
Verdict: Highly Recommend
Director: Christopher Morris – British satirist and occasional comedy surrealist. Never as happy than when he is poking the establishment bee hive with a controversial stick.
Writer: Christopher Morris; Jesse Armstrong & Sam Bain – leading the new wave of British comedy writers with cult TV show Peep Show. Armstrong is also due to write a new Robert Downey Jr movie he has just optioned from Channel 4 jet black drama Black Mirror; Simon Blackwell – well established satirist and sketch comedy writer. Key writer on political comedies In The Thick of It and In The Loop.
Cast: Kayvan Novak, Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay, Adeel Akhtar, Arsher Ali
- Waj: I think I’m confused, but I’m not sure!
- Barry: What’s with the gun?
Waj: Proper replica man.
Barry: It’s too small man!
Waj: Not too small, brother. Big hands!
- Omar: You’re confused bro.
Waj: I’m not confused brother! I just took picture of my face, and it’s deffo not my confused face.
- Barry: You just killed the special needs donkey!
- Waj: We’ll blow something up.
Omar: What we gonna blow up Waj?
- On January 23rd 2010, Four Lions had its world premier at Sundance. On the same day, the UK “terror threat” level was raised to “severe” due to non-specific “chatter”.
- According to Christopher Morris, Barry, the Jihadist group leader, was based on a former BNP member who in an attempt to out-knowledge the Asian youths he regularly assaulted, studied the Qur’an and as a result “accidentally converted himself” and became a Muslim.
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