By Joseph Viney
You can always rely on Chris Morris to raise a few eyebrows. The man who made his name lampooning paedophilia, drugs, sex, crime and the modern media’s insane perception of the world around us has now cast his eye over the explosive subject of Islamic fundamentalism. To the average person on the street this means Al-Qaeda, terrorism, suicide bombings and a fear and suspicion of the Muslim world. To Morris it presents a perfect opening to do what he does best; make everybody involved look as stupid as each other.
In an age where cartoon drawings of the Prophet Muhammad bring protestors onto the streets and dividing lines are drawn between whole communities, Morris has, to use a football analogy, picked his spot and placed it neatly with a minimum of fuss. For a man renowned for his savage putdowns of the world around him, Four Lions contains a surprising amount of heart. With a superb script, quality acting and a daring mix of comedy and atrocity the film succeeds where Governments cannot; after viewing the film you will only want to work together with your fellow man.
For every September 11th and July 7th there are the failed attacks on Glasgow Airport and a Nigerian with singed underpants from a botched aeroplane bombing attempt. Four Lions concentrates on the latter. We follow four very English Muslims cursed with low intelligence, a penchant for hysteria and lacking in any combat initiative. There’s Omar (Riz Ahmed), self-appointed ringleader and devoted family man who uses a clumsy Lion King analogy to explain the reasons behind Jihad to his child. Omar’s nice-but-dim brother, Waj (Kayvan Novak) is like a child himself, having to be cajoled and coerced into committing these heinous deeds. Joining the two in their mission to disrupt the Western way of life is Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), Hassan (Arsher Ali) and most ludicrously of all, Barry, a white skinhead convert to Islam whom, in a delicious slice of irony, is the most fervent fundamentalist of them all.
During a frantic opening 20 minutes involving Pakistani training camps, U.S. spy drones and mishaps with rocket launchers we’re dumped right into the middle of Sheffield on a quiet and inauspicious street, certainly the last place you might hope to find the gears of terrorism spinning. We’re made privy to suburban sheds filled with hydrogen peroxide for explosives, maps and blueprints, copies of the Koran and reams of notes and plans. If the characters weren’t so inherently ridiculous and farcical you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a gloomy BBC drama. Instead, proceedings are on a permanently comic edge; the bomber’s plans to disrupt the London Marathon via suicidal explosions are ludicrous beyond belief but also disturbingly possible.
During the film’s lengthy pre-production process Morris intensely researched many aspects of Muslim culture, the theories and practicalities behind terrorism and as many real-life stories as he could find. The character of Barry is based upon an ex-BNP member who, in an attempt to ‘infiltrate’ the Muslim psyche, read up on the Koran and various other literature. Alas, he found it so convincing he soon converted, renounced his white supremacist past and became a devout Muslim. The character of Barry is sorely missing a similar back-story and as a result is weakened considerably. Morris has certainly missed a trick. One can only imagine the hilarious, grotesque and surreal flashbacks he could have dreamed up for Barry. Instead the viewer is left to question just why the devil a boggle-eyed, intense but rather devoted white guy is mixing it up deep in the heart of Sheffield’s Muslim community.
It’s the curious tics and foibles of the British Muslim community that make this film what it is. Most conversations are littered with strict adherence to the worship of Allah with brief asides to the temptations and me-me-me culture of Western society. It is only expressing what many people, Muslim or otherwise, feel about their lives but have trouble getting across. One contentious point is the clumsy commentary on the accidental death of Jean Charles De Menezes in a London Underground train in July 2005; a botched attempt by police marksmen to kill the bombers is bookmarked by the mind-boggling justification of “He must be the right target…because I’ve just shot him”. This may only serve to play on the doubts and hysteria caused by the belief that Britain is not doing enough, or enough of the right thing, to stem the flow of misinformation and bad feelings between cultures.
Yet the rest of the film positively glows. A cameo from Julia Davis as a spaced-out neighbour, exploding sheep and crows and some incredible acting really marks this out as an early contender for 2010’s film of the year. Fans of Brass Eye, Day Today and Nathan Barley will be entranced by Morris’ humour and Camus-esque eye for the absurd and those who just want a good laugh will be satisfied and then some. A highly recommended film with explosive qualities for the open minded.
8 OUT OF 10