“Four Lions” is the debut film from Chris Morris, best known for the satirical TV series “The Day Today” and “Brass Eye”. It follows a group of Muslim would-be suicide bombers, preparing to carry out a terrorist attack.
The situation means that Morris can’t be as outright farcical as in his earlier TV shows (there’s nothing as farfetched as the “Gay Desk” in “The Day Today”, for example). But the humour is still unmistakably Morris, with things such as Faisal’s crow bombers, or the reference to Barry, a white British convert, setting up the “Islamic State of Tinsley”.
Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is the most fanatical of the group, but the clear leader is Omar (Riz Ahmed). Aside from Hassan (Arsher Ali), who comes across as awkward rather than uneasy as the group’s newest recruit, all of the characters are well cast. Having said this, the relationship between brothers Omar and Waj (Kayvan Novak) isn’t entirely convincing, but the occasional (and ridiculous) power struggles between Omar and Barry are well done.
The film has attracted criticism, such as from the families of those killed in the 7/7 London bombings, who have called for people to boycott the film. Graham Foulkes, whose son died in the bombings, drew attention to the similarities between the film’s situation and real life events, criticising it for “making money from a specific attack”.
For most of the film, the reality of suicide bombing and the main characters’ goal of killing and maiming is pushed to the back of the mind. While it’s frequently discussed, the focus is on the characters’ ineptitude. It is somewhat jarring when things suddenly become quite serious as the group put their plan into action.
The film continues to be funny, and there is no clear separation between “funny bits” and “serious bits”, but the tone and atmosphere noticeably changes as the audience realises it’s not just about joking around with hydrogen peroxide in an empty flat.
It is during this final part that the most overt references to the “War on Terror” are made, which makes sense as it is the first time the group’s plan is shown the light of day. But, while it doesn’t deserve being labelled “heavy-handed”, it is not too far off. However, it does undermine the comparison made by NME to “Dr. Strangelove”, which is perhaps the perfect example of a comedy with a strong political message. Also, the bombers’ motivations are largely ignored, with just a couple of throwaway sentences from Omar.
Overall, “Four Lions” is very good and incredibly funny, while also recognising the seriousness of its topic, though it doesn’t blend those two parts completely satisfactorily.