The fun in fundamentalist – Four Lions review

Four Lions – Starring Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay and Preeya Kalidas. Directed by Chris Morris. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Four Lions is about as funny and ferocious as films come. Never before has the phrase “You’ll laugh; you’ll cry!” seemed like such a genuine, ominous threat. Chris Morris’ confronting satire is not for the faint-hearted, or anyone whose sides are in constant threat of splitting. It attempts to make light of suicide bombers, the war on terror, religion, politics, and pretty much every other provocative issue that would make Bill O’Reilly burst into a fiery tirade. Four Lions is an unequivocal achievement; one of the year’s most thought-provoking pictures and also one of the year’s funniest. Acclaimed auteurs such as Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier may be able to pull off the former, but I have a feeling they would struggle with the latter.

Riz Ahmed stars as Omar, a radical young Muslim who has become totally disenchanted by the Western way of life. He lives in Sheffield, England (hardly the fast-paced centre of consumerism) with fellow wannabe-suicide-bombers Barry (Nigel Lindsay), dim-witted Waj (Kayvan Novak) and the even-dimmer-witted Faisal (Adeel Akhtar). Barry, a convert to Islam, is the most explosive member of the group (no pun intended). He wishes to usher in World War 3 by targeting the local Mosque – an attack, Omar reminds, that will be hard to explain to Allah when they arrive in paradise. When Omar and Waj are selected for special training in Pakistan (and perhaps a private meeting with Osama Bin Laden!), they promise to return with a proper plan of attack. Of course, Omar and Waj cause about as much chaos in Pakistan as Peter Sellers does in The Party, and they sheepishly return to Sheffield. Barry has recruited a fifth member of the crew – rapper Hassan (Arsher Ali) – that threatens to ruin the group dynamic. Omar begins to lose faith in his mission, and even doubts his calling as the bringer of death to English sinners. That is until his wife Sophia (Preeya Kalidas) reminds him – in one of the film’s most touching scenes – that he can achieve anything that he puts his mind towards. Wait, what?!

Needless to say, Four Lions is challenging. The laughs come easy, but our ability to put these belly-laughs in perspective is difficult. The pitch-perfect performances across the board help. Take for instance Omar’s relationship with his wife. How can this woman support her husband’s suicidal plight? How can she want him to go ahead and kill himself? How can she think it’s OK for him to die and leave her to raise their young son alone (let alone kill innocents in the process)? Well, terrifyingly, these decisions are made in real life. Whether we like it or not, suicide bombers are real human beings. There is something so troubling about watching such conversations held so calmly; we want these people to seem irrational, and selfish, and evil. Nuh-uh, Chris Morris isn’t letting us off that easy. Omar and Sophia deal with suicide-bombing the way in which we discuss the internet bill with our own partners. Similarly, Omar’s crew of try-hard-terrorists debate targets the same way Jerry Seinfeld argues with George, Elaine and Kramer about which film to go see. And that is both hilarious and horrifying.

Four Lions was penned by Morris, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong; all three cut their teeth in the world of British television comedy, while the latter even worked on the last great satire to reach cinemas, In The Loop. Needless to say, the most incisive and stimulating comedies are coming out of Britain right now. Even South Park – a hilarious show that also upholds the most biting American satire – has a nasty habit of reminding its viewers at the conclusion of each episode how they should feel about the subject at hand. As mentioned above, Four Lions does not allow the audience the ease of telling them “it’s ok to laugh” at the very end. It augments moments of hilarity with genuine heartbreak; it makes the world’s current big bad – suicide bombers – if not sympathetic, at the very least human. A lesser film would wimp out. Four Lions makes us reconsider what we believe in; what our enemies believe in; what it means to believe. In anything. All the while, it keeps us laughing, with hard-to-describe tears in our eyes. Much like its protagonists deepest wishes, Four Lions etches itself into the history books. It’s a significant weapon in the war. The best satire always is.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

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