Four Lions

A gang of bumbling Muslim suicide bombers hatch a plot to blow up London in Chris Morris’ debut feature film Four Lions, a raucous, courageous comedy about stupidity. Morris, a clever media prankster who made his reputation provoking the public and the media with the television series Brass Eye, has created a relentlessly funny and deeply subversive film that says more about home-grown terrorism than acres of newspaper editorial ever could.

Shot in a loose, faux-documentary style, the film opens with our anti-heroes sitting before a bed-sheet in an anonymous terraced house, filming their own martyrdom videos. The gang’s principled and intelligent leader Omar (Riz Ahmed) is operating the camera while his best-friend, dim-witted Waj (Kavyan Novak) brandishes a toy sub-machine gun. From behind the camera, Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a radicalised white convert, suggests that in order to avoid MI5 surveillance, they should all eat the SIM cards in their phones. Timid, frightened Fessal (Adeel Akhtar) doesn’t say much, he’s too busy hatching a plan to fly bombs into buildings on the back of trained crows.

If at first, Four Lions seems like an Al Qaeda video re-enacted by the Keystone Kops, Morris gradually reveals his knockabout farce to have much sharper teeth. The first hint of this comes when Omar and Waj visit Pakistan at the invitation of a radicalised uncle and join a terrorist training camp in the mountains. It doesn’t go well, for hilarious reasons that I cannot reveal, and the two are soon returned to Britain, having learned little more than they have much to learn. At the same time, Barry has recruited another martyr, wannabe rapper Hassan (Arsher Ali), whose father owns a costume shop.

From that point on, the four would-be jihadists stumble from one crisis to another in their quest to overthrow Western capitalism by blowing up the London Marathon, hiding their backpack-bombs under fancy dress costumes. Morris, who co-scripted alongside Peep Show writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, has lifted elements from real-life atrocities for the spine of his story, using the terrifying reality of radical Islamic terrorism as a springboard for chaotic laughs. In the same way that Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove twisted the bleak concept of nuclear Armageddon into a riotous comedy about bureaucratic stupidity, Morris sifts through the hysteria surrounding The War on Terror until he finds pearls of wise, cutting comedy.

Four Lions is both a hilarious farce and a brilliant deconstruction of the absurdity of fanaticism. At the heart of the film is the notion that terrorists are people too; as incompetent and petty and dim-witted as the rest of us. But the most subversive and unsettling scenes in the film are those Omar shares with his loving wife Sophia (Preeya Kalidas), a hospital nurse who is fully aware of her husband’s plan, but offers nothing but support and encouragement. Now that is terrifying.

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