Four Lions Directed by: Chris Morris Cast: Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay, Adeel Akhtar, Kavyan Novak Running Time: 1 hr 42 mins Rating: R Release Date: November 12, 2010 (Limited)
PLOT: In this comedy, a small group of clumsy British jihadists attempt to plan the perfect suicide bombing attack in hopes of starting an international conflict.
WHO'S IT FOR? Coming into the theater with a dark sense of humor is required, but even then some will find this to be in poor taste. Are Americans ready to laugh about suicide bombers?
EXPECTATIONS: This British comedy had great buzz from last year’s Sundance, and was picking up hype steam just as this month began. The film’s poster even quoted the praise “Funny” fifteen times. Could Four Lions be this year’s In The Loop?
Riz Ahmed as Omar: The main character of the film is also the most jarring. He is at the center of the movie’s challenge on the audience to kind of enjoy the presence of these evil men. On one hand, Omar's a wannabe terrorist who shoots and edits threat videos, and concocts a plan to bomb the London Marathon. On the other hand, this progressive Muslim is a loving father and husband. The audience’s relationship with Omar becomes very difficult, especially as our sympathy for certain shades of the character make us feel awkward about liking (or even laughing) at other elements of his being. On top of this, however clumsy he may be, Omar is also the most “normal” and non-animated of the bunch. This makes him all the more a tangible possibility for our skewed imaginings of suicide bombers. Score: 7
Nigel Lindsay as Barry: If Elmer Fudd became a very radical Muslim and grew a beard, he might be someone like Barry, a motivated wannabe ringleader who is constantly thwarted by his own stupidity. Much like other areas of Four Lions, sometimes of his pure hatred is handled too seriously to be laughed at or with. Score: 6
Adeel Akhtar as Faisal: Somewhat echoing the ways of Wile E. Coyote, the quiet and blank-faced Faisal is the dopiest member of the group, and also the funniest. Akhtar's wonderfully timed character is at the center of the film’s biggest laughs, and stands as a representation of a more comfortable area of dark humor for Four Lions, one that has his wild plans (bombs on crows, for example) bookended by reality. Score: 8
Kavyan Novak as Waj: Devoid of any smarts, Waj uses his brain in the same way that someone like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G does – he is constantly thinking of the most random and illogical things. (For example, Waj wants to blow up “the internet.”) As Omar’s sidekick throughout the movie, Waj represents failed attempts at terrorist intimidation. Score: 7
TALKING: Factoring heavily into their chaotic partnership, the suicide bombers argue a lot, often speaking at a fast pace and punctuating their sentences with the word “bro.” At times their accents can be very thick, but nothing, not even the bits of slang or insults that require subtitles, is lost on American audiences. Score: 7
SIGHTS: The usage of hand-held cameras gives Four Lions a more intimate feel along with a near documentary-style reality. Some of the funniest moments in the film involve the gang failing to record a proper “threat” video. As for the violence of the movie, the explosions that do occur in the movie are handled with a slight cinematic, if not cartoonish touch. Though most of them do not come packaged with any humor, some of these moments are legitimately positively hilarious. Score: 7
SOUNDS: The mixing is really bad. The shuffling of jackets/various clothing can be heard at the same level as dialogue, something that tends to be very distracting (especially since this isn’t an intentional documentary or anything of the like). As for the soundtrack, the spare amount of songs used are all pleasing. Toploader’s groovy-catchy “Dancing in the Moonlight," which is used in two different impromptu singing sequences, adds a touch of frivolity to the craziness of Four Lions. Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14th” haunts its audience during the not-so jovial epilogue. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: Difficult to choose. I think I laughed the loudest when Faisal ran with sheep, bomb ingredients in hand.
ENDING: The disorienting delight of Four Lions continues into the epilogue, which wraps the film with both mini-triumphs and other moments of real sadness.
QUESTIONS: None. If anything, I'm a bit speechless.
REWATCHABILITY: A second viewing might help accommodate a viewer to the film's humor, or at least help someone contain all of the dialogue's funny moments. This is the same thing that happened with In The Loop, which was originally a bit "lemon difficult" to take in all at once.
The fresh but slightly difficult Four Lions does two things. It adds new meaning to the phrase “explosive laughter,” as the biggest laugh-out-loud moments tend to involve jokes about bombs, bomb making, and how to be a smart terrorist. However, it also gives new meaning to the idea that jokes that are too dark can be bombs themselves. After all, suicide bombers are probably the darkest that comedy can go before any film simply represents simple poor taste and disrespect. As a colleague reminded me, Uwe Boll's Postal tried to do this, but that movie's lack of intellect and digestible humor made it a completely despicable piece of garbage.
Thankfully, Four Lions has its sharp wit and heavy influx of laughs to keep the audience from being immersed too deep into a sobering darkness where no comedy can survive. The film is most enjoyable when it plays like a smart live-action political cartoon, except this one comes without any gross stereotypes or heavy slandering. The usage of slapstick is a key ingredient in getting us to fully confront (and even laugh about) our fears about suicide bombers and their chaotic plans. Whether it's making an audience laugh about life or death by ways of clumsiness, or sobering the same crowd with moments of shocking mortality, Four Lions is a unique comedy that hits home in unexpected ways.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10