British satirist Chris Morris is legendary for his no holds barred approach to black comedy. Four Lions (2010) touches on a highly controversial topic – terrorism. And yet it does so with thoughtful belly laughs and a sense of absurd poignancy.
The film follows the various misadventures of several bumbling British Muslims. They’re radicalised and upset with western society.
One of the main ringleaders is Omar (Riz Ahmed). He’s mates with the loveable but dumb Waj (Kayvan Novak), a belligerent British convert to Islam called Barry (Nigel Lindsay), and the bumbling Faisal (Adeel Akhtar).
They eventually list the young Hassan (Arsher Ali), with Barry essentially forcing him into planned activities against his will.
The troop hatches a plan to bomb the London Marathon, so they go about resourcing materials for explosives.
This is where the slapstick and absurdity kicks in – but as a writer, Morris is keen to highlight how the individuals all fit into British society and are well liked by their colleagues and family.
Despite such status, the individuals want to carry on with their activities. Barry continues to bully them into it, but the total incompetence is never far behind.
Omar and Waj head out to Pakistan to receive training, where they embarrass themselves and have to return to England ashamed.
You also get a nice insight into Waj’s mindset, who is more interested in theme park rides than doing anyone any harm.
They make it down to the event and dress accordingly – in ridiculous attire. The police learn of the plot and attempt to wipe them out, but there’s some confusion.
In England, Honey Monster Puffs are a popular breakfast cereal for kids. But is the monster a bear? This is a very good question Four Lions clears up neatly.
And it ends in chaos. The bumbling wannabe terrorists pretty much fail at their mission and only succeed in losing control of their situation.
Full credit to the performances. The cast is superb. The actors deliver the sharp social commentary and satire with a natural flair, which lends itself to the subject matter perfectly.
And this was a difficult topic to take on. In the hands of a less gifted writer, Four Lions would likely have fallen flat.
The 57 year old Chris Morris is already a legend due to his Brass Eye series – that mocks primetime news channels with caustic wit – but keeps a very low profile and doesn’t engage in any celebrity activities.
By making a few of the central characters delightfully stupid, the audience actually sympathises with them despite their intentions. They’re misguided, but likeable.
And as such, you can’t help but look to the brainwashing ideologies that are distorting them towards such acts.
And it’s the British convert Barry who represents that more than anything else – the bullying and unpleasant sort whose lack of intelligence, but total conviction in his beliefs, is part of most extremist acts.
Critical & Social Response
At the time of the film’s release, we were working an admin job for the government. The Muslims we worked with and, indeed, got on very well with saw the film and loved it.
Since the film’s production a decade ago, the situation in England has deteriorated rapidly. As a multicultural society, things were largely okay and most people get on well with each other.
Then Brexit happened, plus the Tory political party’s ostracising policies, which has lured the far right out of the shadows – many of them now think it’s fine to be as bigoted and racist as they like.
Many of them believe immigration to be a national threat and the cause for the nation’s various crises as of writing, whilst failing to understand most of the issues were created by the Tories. A series of terrorist attacks in 2017 here, including one on our city of Manchester, didn’t help the situation.
That ridiculous situation is very much in keeping with Four Lions – absurdly comical. Citizens labouring under the Dunning-Kruger effect, continuing to vote for the very thing making their lives so miserable.
But back in 2010, shortly after a 2005 terrorist attack in London, the film was brazenly daring. And whilst a jet black comedy, critics such as Mark Kermode of the Church of Wittertainment noted the overall sadness of the film.
Omar (played brilliantly by Riz Ahmed) is the most tragic. He has a decent job, a loving wife, and his son adores him – and yet he decides to throw it all away.
At the very end, he tries to convince the confused Waj not to go ahead with his detonation. After this fails, in despair he lumbers into a pharmaceutical shop and blows himself up.
And yet you can see the confusion of his situation. Happy to treat his wife as an equal – whilst his brother doesn’t, but is fundamentally opposed to violence – yet eager to send the west a strong message of violence.