Synopsis: Four Lions tells the story of a group of British jihadists who push their abstract dreams of glory to the breaking point. As the wheels fly off, and their competing ideologies clash, what emerges is an emotionally engaging (and entirely plausible) farce. In a storm of razor-sharp verbal jousting and large-scale set pieces, Four Lions is a comic tour de force; it shows that-while terrorism is about ideology-it can also be about idiots.
Release Date: November 5, 2010 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Comedy, Drama
“I think I might be confused, but I’m not sure.” So says Waj, a dim, young British Muslim who just happens to be a terrorist with a bomb strapped to his torso. Bad time to be confused. Waj is just one in a gang of homegrown terrorists at the center of Four Lions, a satirical comedy from British provocateur Chris Morris.
Bound to offend some but guaranteed to entertain all, the film’s protagonists are a gang of wayward Muslim men: their leader Omar (Riz Ahmed) lives a comfortable middle class existence with his wife and son; his friend Waj (Kayvan Novak) is the well-meaning idiot of the group; there’s the crazy one, Faisal (Adeel Askhtar) whose master plan involves training crows as suicide bombers; Hassan (Arsher Ali), the young one, and Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the Britisher whose recent conversion to Islam has rendered him the most extreme of the group. They’re all blunderers but Barry’s absurd bluster takes the cake. An overt stereotype of Muslim extremism, upset at his crummy car’s ailing parts, Barry explodes in irate intolerance, “Jews invented spark plugs to control global traffic!!”
Again, confusion. Four Lions doesn’t forcibly ask questions about terrorism or law enforcement or happiness or unhappiness, but it delves so deeply into the flaws and eccentricities of its characters that these questions arise in the viewer naturally. Why, for instance, does Omar, who has a steady job and lives in the suburbs, commit himself to a life of martyrdom at the expense of his young family? In an effort to explain to his young son why he was away at a terrorist training camp, Omar compares himself to Simba and his quest for Jihad to the plot of The Lion King, which gives the film its title. Waj, whose childlike simplicity makes him a natural subordinate to Omar (the Timon or Pumba to his Simba, if you will), constantly compares the ultimate thrill of the martyr’s heavenly reward to an amusement park ride. “Rubber dinghy rapids, bro!” he repeats over and over with the same glassy-eyed fanaticism Lennie enthused for rabbits.
And while we’re privy to the inner-workings of homegrown Jihad, the so-called authorities are none-the-wiser. They’re just another clueless group of men crusading for a cause they probably don’t even believe in. Like any worthy satire, Four Lions highlights the inherent absurdity of existence. The terrorism bent lends the film an air of eerie prescience, but “terrorist satire” is not its defining legacy. Four Lions leaves you with a nagging sense of sadness and exasperation at having witnessed the hilarious, touching and ultimately tragic trajectory of men who ally themselves with a cause from which there is no coming back. It’s a classic slice of satire and a film worth seeing, regardless of your political ideology.
Four Lions may seem unusual but its premise is a classic comedy situation. It’s not so much a movie about terrorism as it is about one sane man trying to lead a group of incompetents towards a common goal. The would-be Jihadists’ exploits chronicle all the unchecked machismo, aggression and frat boy attitudes on display in any gangster picture or war film. Morris’ moral lies less in what happens when terrorists get together than what happens when men get together.
It’s just that Omar and his cadre live in the most innocuous of places, the suburbs of Sheffield, England, and are relegated to conduct their grand scheming in empty apartment rooms with old video cameras and homemade bomb supplies. The comedy is derived organically; situations that would play as drama in another type of film are played purely for laughs. Faisal buys all his bomb materials at a single store, confident in the fact he won’t get caught because he disguised his voice (but not his beard) during each visit. In another scene, fearful the sight of four Muslim men sneaking into an apartment building might arise the suspicions of their new neighbor (Julia Davis), a panicked Barry forgets their cover story and blurts out another: “We’re gay!” Omar can only shake his head in disbelief. What happened to being in a band?, he wonders.
Of course both ruses are ridiculous, but director Morris, along with his co-screenwriters Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, mine the non-Muslim characters for more comedy. As much as Omar and company don’t want to get caught, the white British characters don’t want to accuse them of anything. Their neighbor seems nonplussed but generally disinterested. A hostage negotiator (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is as inept as the Jihadists, seemingly out of his depth to deal with a suicide bomber during the London Marathon. He attempts to bond with Waj over girls, at a loss as how to endear himself to a man who’d willingly explode himself for a vague sense of anti-Western victory. Waj is amused, “Is this your first time, bro?”
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Chris Morris
- Producer(s): Jesse ArmstrongSam BainChristopher Morris
- Screenwriter(s): Benedict Cumberbatch (Ed)Kayvan Novak (Waj)Nigel Lindsay (Barry)
- Story: darren Boyd (Sniper)
- Cast: Riz Ahmed (Omar)Preeya Kalidas (Sophia) Billy SneddonLol Crawley
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: UK