director Chris Morris
Released in 2010 after many years of writing and planning, the UK film, Four Lions, tackles the touchy subject of jihad in the form of comedy and satire.
The film’s most compelling aspect is its daring to take on such a loaded and heavy subject head on and to do so weaponized only with humor. That boldness alone has merit. Would that the film had half the wit of its boldness, it could have been something like a Duck Soup (1933) for jihad. Which would have been awesome.
But Chris Morris and team are not the Marx Brothers, so a classic this is not. Funny at times, funny in moments, yes, there it works, in spits and starts. The cast is pretty good. I particularly liked Adheel Akhtar (who also stood out in the largely bad Pan (2015)) and Kayvan Novak, the two dumbest of the would be jihadis.
The idea is that there is a terrorist cell in Sheffield, England with Omar (Riz Ahmed) leading and Barry (Nigel Lindsay) an outspoken convert in cahoots, with two lesser lights in intellect following along. When Novak and Ahmed hit Pakistan to join up, they are immediately drummed out of enlistment for pure idiocy and foolishness, heading back to the UK to plan a domestic attack. It’s their mixture of Western upbringing and general dumbness that makes for the laughs.
Playing this in 2015, five years since its release, with the way that terrorism has expressed itself, the rise of the Islamic State and its various fanatical adherents, and general unease and uncertainty about everything in the Middle East, the film’s subject matter continues to be daring. Watching goofball guys trying to make a terrorist video and failing still mixes unease with gags. Some might find this inherently unfunny, that the subject is unapproachable as such. I’d say that is where this film retains its worth and value.
Made in collaboration with British Muslims, the perspective comes from the inside of Islamic life, or is meant to at least, rather than a satire from the outside. Whether this is successful or not, I’m not sure that I’m qualified to say. But I do think that humor as a weapon for deconstructing, understanding, and breaking down things is a healthy and valid course.
I wish the movie was a little better. It’s not bad, but it’s also not nearly as comic as it could be, something I attribute to the writing and development. A noble effort if not entirely successful.