|Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) in Four Lions.|
Roaring with laughter
By John Esther
If you can appreciate farce through annihilation and death a la Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Love the Bomb or Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, then Four Lions is probably a very good movie for you.
A multiple winner at various prestigious film festivals, co-writer/director Chris Morris' film focuses on a group we do not usually associate with anything remotely funny: jihadists. Set in a contemporary, heavily surveillance city in England, Omar (Riz Ahmed) is disgusted by the treatment of Muslims around the world and western vulgar materialistic consumption. So the only logical response is to blow him self up into heaven – and he is the brains of the organization.
Omar's puppet, Waj (Kayvan Novak), is a tea party-like dupe unable to decipher reality from the falsehoods and inherent contradictions his master tells him. Dumber than Waj – if you can believe that is possible -- is Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), a bearded man who poses as a woman and tries to train birds to carry bombs to specific targets (poor birdie). That this idiot can make a bomb is scary, but he is nowhere as crazy as Barry (Nigel Linday), a Caucasian who thinks it would be a good idea to blow up a mosque because…well, you have to hear him explain it. It is the sort of convoluted logic only a rightwing extremist can concoct.
While two of them unsuccessfully -- to put it mildly -- train in Central Asia, Barry recruits Hassan (Arsher Ali), a wannabe renegade rapper with a few financial resources, into the group.
From the opening moments, Four Lions gets off to a hilarious start. The actors have great timing and the script by Morris, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain rips a laughter hole into a type of mentality that wishes most of us dead. "Joking is a sign of weakness."
Yet as the movie propels itself forward, the farce takes on a sense of tragedy as these five men become seriously violent threats. Laughter becomes a little more difficult when you start feeling a pit in your gut. Sure you can laugh it off, but there is something far more human about this movie than just making fun of fanatics. Extremists are funny, but by god-less, they are far more dangerous. Their stupidity is a grave threat, but that stupidity is probably the only thing really protecting us from them, but for how long?
To be clear, this movie is not an attack on Muslims (We can rely on an extremist "news" network headquartered in the U.S. for that.). Four Lions is an attack on violent extremists who happen to be Muslim (these five guys seem to know nothing about the Koran). And they are not the only ones who take a hit in the film. Everybody, from crusader to cop, negotiator to next door nut (Julia Davis), takes a licking while the time is ticking off.
Hilarious, smart, touching and brave, Four Lions is a highly likely selection for my Top Ten Films of the Year list.