Four Lions: The Funniest Film of the Year is About Radical Muslim Terrorists
For the second year in a row, the Brits have delivered the smartest and funniest comedy of the year from a very unusual location. Last year’s In The Loop took a cutting look at intercontinental politics which resulted in a mixture between profane riotous yukfest and the most on-point political satire the cineplex has seen in years. Now, Chris Morris’ Four Lions tackles Jihad terrorism in Great Britain with the same tone in mind. While not as sharp as In The Loop, it’s five times as daring– it engages in farce with highly sensitive subject matter and, perhaps most iffy of all to American audiences, asks us to like characters who aspire to be suicide bombers. Morris also manages to switch tone from farce to drama and back with great dexterity, a difficult task for any filmmaker, much less one making his feature-length debut with an Al Qaeda farce. Wit conquers all– Four Lions is a must-see for literally anyone reading this blog.
Four Lions follows Omar (Riz Ahmed), the leader of a group of young radical Muslims living in Britain with aspirations of becoming suicide bombers. He and the dimwitted Waj (Kayvan Novak) have been invited by Al Qaeda to go to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, which has them very excited. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is bitter because, although he’s a convert to Islam, he thinks he’s “way more Jihad” than the rest of them. Barry and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) stay behind as Omar and Waj leave for Pakistan, but when things go wrong at the training site, Omar and Waj come back more determined than ever to succeed in their quest. The four of them, along with Hassan (Arsher Ali), an aspiring radical/rapper Barry recruited, scheme to suicide bomb the London Marathon.
To give you an idea of why this film is so funny, take the opening scene. It takes place on location at the shooting of an Al Qaeda propaganda video, the kind we’re so used to seeing on CNN with a grainy Osama Bin Laden bragging about how he strikes fear into the hearts of the western civilization. However, we see the uncut version of the shooting, with multiple takes and flubs. It turns out ranting about capitalism and the west isn’t as easy as those videos make it seem. Also, they have a prop uzi that’s obviously too small, but they don’t have a real one nearby to replace it, so one actor suggests holding it closer to the camera so it looks bigger. Suddenly, the scene become Monty Pythonesque, with characters bickering about absurd points in a witty manner, but the setting of the scene makes you laugh that much harder– they’ve found human comedy in figures that the media paints as inhuman.
The heart of the film is its true genius, because we never think about terrorists as real people with families, senses of humor, and feelings of warmth and happiness. After they figure out how to make a bomb, they make little tiny ones that fit in your hand and go off no more powerful than a firework. They blow several of them up at a celebration, where they dance to popular music and embrace each other. You find yourself smiling at this scene, because you’ve grown to know and like these characters by now… and then you realize what you’re smiling about is the seed of terrorism being planted. As the movie progresses forward and the London Marathon approaches, you find yourself rooting for these terrorists to not blow themselves up… but you don’t want them to get caught either. A friend of Omar runs into them as they’re transporting explosives, and the way Omar talks his way out of a fishy-looking situation is absolutely hilarious. As the target of radical Muslim terrorism, I still found myself surprisingly moved by many sections of this film.
Does this mean I’m a bad American? The opposite, really– it’s important we realize these terrorists are flawed humans just like us, and the basis of all great comedy is in the flaws of humankind. The major studios wouldn’t touch this film with a ten-foot pole, and while I can’t blame them from a business perspective, the bottom line is this is the funniest movie of the year, a brave and hysterical film that an indie distributor should have immediately snatched up. Why wouldn’t they? Was it fear of terrorism, or fear that anti-terrorist backers would no longer support their business? Either way, if we’re not able to mock terrorism in a smart, witty way, don’t the terrorists win? With the recent controversy about Ron Howard’s “The Dilemma” and a joke where electric cars are called gay, the issue of what we can and cannot joke about is at the forefront of Hollywood’s mind. I believe that literally any topic can be joked about, if we reveal people’s flaws in a smart, truthful and heartfelt manner. Four Lions proves that. It’s a movie that absolutely any lover of movies should put it upon themselves to seek out, find, and enjoy. It’s a movie that American audiences should be supporting more than the run-of-the-mill studio crap. It’s a movie of a certain pedigree that other scriptwriters and filmmakers should aspire to. See this film– four stars for Four Lions.