Four Lions (2010) Rated R for language throughout, including some sexual references. Dir: Chris Morris.
In this dark British comedy directed by Chris Morris, four ragtag band of jihadists-Omar (Riz Ahmed), Waj (Kayvan Novak), Barry (Nigel Lindsay), and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar)-decides to become terrorists. However, they are incompetent in various ways-Waj is a bit slow in the mind, Barry is a nihilistic white Islamic convert who wants to blow up a mosque to blame Jews for it, and Faisal can make a bomb but would rather train crows to fly bombs through windows. Meanwhile they are planning a bomb attack without being discovered by the authorities.
Given that this film is a comedy, it is kind of a tough sell. The main characters in the film, disillusioned about the treatment of Muslims around the world, are radicalized, but bumbling, young Muslim men who decide to become suicide bombers. Ironically, their personal life isn’t all that bad. They have jobs and live in the suburbs. Omar (Ahmed) is married and has a kid. Besides wanting to become martyrs, their life is also common and they bicker about the usual everyday things amongst themselves. A couple of them decide to enlist in the terrorist training camp in Pakistan. Unfortunately (or fortunately for everyone else), they are also quite inept as soldiers. They cause some unwanted problems in the camp, so they soon rush back home. The four characters then try to plan on a particular venue to target.
What is novel about this film is that the filmmakers make the jihadists the main characters. They also happen to be personable, goofy, relatable, and perhaps a bit confused. With a mix of verbal sparring, potty jokes, and slapstick, much of the humor lies in the situations these characters are in due to their incompetence and naiveté. I suppose there’s a hint of Wile E. Coyote element in there-although, with Wile E. Coyote, he is only after one thing and we actually root for him. This film, though, relies heavily on silly jokes and site gags. Given the film’s roots in real-life, I found the humor mostly too broad and simplistic for my taste.
Riz Ahmed does a fine job of making Omar an everyday type of character and personable. I still couldn’t understand his eventual choices of actions, especially given that he was a fairly happily married man with a kid who’d probably do better with a father around than without. A good amount of unexpected humor comes from Nigel Lindsay as the hot-tempered Barry, the only white guy in the group, who has a tendency to take things a bit far. Kayvan Novak brings a good amount of sympathy to the slow-witted Waj who is only used to following orders.
The film has an almost documentary feel with its use of the hand-held camera. This film’s world is certainly no fantasy. Despite the humor, I felt an unsettling discomfort throughout. One can’t help but feel guarded when something seriously wrong may and can happen (especially toward innocents). Some of the more interesting and perhaps revealing moments in the film involve Omar’s peace-loving brother-in-law and his relationship with Omar. I wished the film looked deeper into this relationship and their differences, which may shed some light on the subject. The film takes some ironic jabs at law enforcement as well.
Overall, despite the research done on the material, I felt the film didn’t explore the subject fully, at least beyond the surface, or at least to a point where I could understand certain choices the characters make. Much of the humor comes off rather forced. Still, I suppose that’s the only way to go with a dark subject like terrorism. Some of the material is amusing, but often not terribly clever. It’s no Dr. Strangelove. With the right hands, this film probably could have been very thought-provoking. I found myself smirking more than laughing. I smirked in certain moments more than others, though. The film straddles the fence between a thriller and a comedy, but I found that it didn’t quite succeed in its crude balancing act.
My Rating: ** out of **** stars.