Four Lions, 2010.
Directed by Chris Morris.
Starring Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay, Adeel Akhtar, Archer Ali and Preeya Kalidas.
After accidentally killing his own men at a training camp in Pakistan, Omar (Ahmed) returns to England to form a suicide terrorist cell with ideas of blowing up a major British target. Unfortunately his co-conspirators are less than helpful.
At first glance this sounds like a very bad idea; a comedy about five incompetent Jihad suicide bombers attempting to blow themselves up while killing innocent people in London. For some this is going to be too close to the bone and too flippant towards recent events.
Luckily Four Lions proves to be sensitive in its portrayal of this delicate story and does this by humanising the characters without justifying their actions. An effort is made to find a reason for these actions and it is made very clear that the problem stems from a preposterous belief system programmed into them from birth, an idea perfectly illustrated in a scene between Omar and his son, where he compares the Lion King to their fight against the west. The first reaction is to laugh at the absurdity of such a scenario but that’s until you realise the plausibility of it. How else would people become so convinced that becoming suicide bombers is the best course of action for their fight against western civilisation?
This scene perfectly demonstrates the balance of comedy and pathos and those expecting a laugh riot in the style of Chris Morris’ television projects will likely be disappointed. Considering the obviously controversial subject matter; there is a surprisingly gentle tone and this is down to both Morris’ unobtrusive direction and the strength of the main performances.
Riz Ahmed as Omar is possibly the reason the film is as successful as it is. While handling the comedy well, which ranges from sharp wit to Spinal Tap absurdity, he provides the viewer with a window to a world we have been accustomed to hate and fear. Instead of playing Omar as a highly organised, sadistic, one-dimensional villain, he emphasises the character’s confusion and frustration. Witness the scene where he’s trying to get his friend Waj (played brilliantly by Kayvan Novak) to embrace his cause. Not only does he get Waj confused; but himself as well. Somehow trying to teach others what they are doing is right manages to convince himself of the opposite.
The danger with all this however is that the film could easily have copped out and not been as forthright as it ultimately is, or worse could have let the main protagonists off the hook. Fortunately the writers and director have the courage of their convictions and without spoiling anything, any worry you may have over the maker’s political leanings can be quickly put aside by the time the end credits role up.
All of this makes it sound like a worthier and more subdued experience than it actually is, but there are some very funny moments. Obvious examples are the bickering between the five (yes five, the title will make sense when you watch the film) guys, mostly over what needs to be bombed (one suggestion includes mini babybel), how to sit in the videos outlining their demands, trying to get one of the team to punch themselves in the face and most importantly why bombing a Mosque will help rather than hinder their cause.
However the overriding sensation on leaving the cinema will most likely he one of sadness rather than elation and considering the subject matter that is entirely appropriate.