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Four Lions

2010-10-29 09:32
 
Four Lions
 
What it's about:

A group of British Jihadists conspire to launch a suicide-bombing attack, but will they be thwarted by their own stupidity and constant bickering?

What we thought:

Four Lions is a comedy about extremist Islamic terrorists. I'm just going to let that sink in for a minute. The very idea of trying to make a farce about such an apparently unfunny subject is mind-boggling enough but doing so with a subject as potentially, if you pardon the expression, explosive as militant, fundamental Islam? Sheer lunacy. Add to that the delicate balance between skewering extremist Muslims while not insulting and denigrating everyone else and you're left with a film that I simply cannot believe actually exists. The thing that really gets to me is that not only does this film exist, but for the most part it works rather bloody well. I know. What are the odds?

The film has been compared to both Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap and it's more than clear that director/co-writer Chris Morris and his team of co-writers have drawn heavily from those two stone-cold classics. Dr. Strangelove's satirical take on nuclear holocaust struck a perfect balance between the ludicrous and the blood-chillingly frightening and it is that balance that Morris holds almost as well in Four Lions. At the same time, Morris uses the templates laid down in This Is Spinal Tap to create characters that are as obnoxious as they are likeable, as thoroughly stupid as they are pathetically earnest.

The problem – and this is the thing that prevents the very good Four Lions from approaching true classic status – is that the band members who made up Spinal Tap may have been exaggerated but clearly they rang true enough that most real musical acts find plenty in the film to relate to. The hideous psychological conditioning that drive ordinary people to strap bombs onto themselves as they commit the simultaneous, heinous double act of murder-suicide is far more complex and chilling than what this film can realistically convey and while that's certainly understandable, it does remove the film a bit too far away from reality for it to be entirely effective.

With that weakness acknowledged then, it's stunning to note just how much the film got right. Before anything else, it succeeds brilliantly as a comedy by being genuinely laugh-out-loud funny through the kind of quick one-liners and the incredible uncomfortable/funny dichotomy that great British comedy is so well known for. The characters in the film, these Jihadists that we should reasonably despise but somehow end up liking (thanks, in no small part, to excellent performances all round by the relatively unknown cast), are simply really, really funny and the interplay between them is pure comedic gold. Don't even get me started on the Bin Laden style videos they attempt to make throughout the film and the hilarious expulsion of two of their members from a terrorist training camp.

The humour is even better served by the fact that it enforces and emboldens the more tragic and horrific elements of the film, rather than detracts from them. The farcical set pieces that pepper the film make the awfulness of the subject matter easier to swallow but at the same time actually highlight just how stupidly wasteful and senseless these acts really are.

The humour takes on ironic and subversive tones as well, specifically in regards to the main Jihadi of our story and the relationship he has with his brother. We have two brothers, one a seemingly moderate Muslim who embraces plenty from the Western world, the other a very stringently religious Muslim whose attitude towards women is shocking to us as Westerners. Take a wild guess which one lands up being the terrorist. All I have to say is that I wonder what moderate Muslims would make of this particular twist.

Four Lions is filled with this sort of unease, of expectation-undermining humour. It's a film that demands to be seen but seen with an open mind and though it may certainly not be perfect, it is still one of this year's genuinely strange but unmissable films. And if nothing else, it's worth seeing just to prove that seeing may not always be believing.

A comedy about Islamic extremists? It's a miracle that this movie even exists.

Read more on:    britain  |  movie  |  comedy  |  terrorism
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