Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Four Lions – Britain’s most provocative comedian takes on home-grown suicide bombers. Oh dear.

Christopher Morris is, quite possibly, Britain’s most provocative comedian, finding humour in the most unpleasant of topics (conversely, provoking more open debate about such topics through comedy), much to the great exasperation of the mainstream. Issues such as drug abuse, paedophilia, keen Catholic priests, Aids. Morris is after all, the satirist who introduced Britain to the difference between ‘Good’ AIDS (for example, acquired through transfusions of contaminated blood) and ‘Bad’ Aids (acquired through unprotected sex or drug abuse). And he is a master at evoking the prejudice behind that extra bit of sympathy we feel for the ‘Good’ Aids victim over the ‘Bad’ Aids victim.

And now, a mere 5 years after the London bombings of 7/7, he’s turned his attention to a toxic issue that has been bombarded into our collective consciousness for the past decade – Islamic extremism, of the home-grown variety. Morris must be blessed with especially sturdy genitalia to take up such a tasteless subject for his film debut but that’s precisely what he’s done with Four Lions.

The film follows a terror cell based in a particularly dreary part of Yorkshire as they bungle their way through a plot to bomb the London Marathon and destroy the “Kaffa Bastards”. Ironically, the terror cell in Four Lions actually consists of five would-be Jihadis. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the intense and focused leader who spends his time flitting between frustration and bemusement, spitting abuse at his cohorts whose general incompetence constantly threatens to derail the plan for martyrdom. Waj (Kayvan Novak) is Omar’s dim-witted, easily-led sidekick, and muscleman of the group. Fessel (Adeel Akhtar) is the clueless ‘materiel expert’ who stockpiles vast quantities of bleach from the same shop disguised as a woman by covering up his lush beard with just his hands. Hassan (Arsher Ali) is a fusion rapper and the innocent new recruit. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is the most unlikely of the five, a ferocious Caucasian Muslim convert with a nasty streak and little sense; seemingly ready to take out the “Jaffa Cake eating Jew Lovers” armed only with the vicious bile that he spews. Barry initially proposes bombing a mosque to spur a Muslim uprising against the indigenous populace but that plan is soon shelved.

As a buddy comedy Four Lions is a near perfect blend of The Full Monty, Ocean’s Eleven and The Three Stooges; with a fantastically temperamental cast of characters and the resultant bickering, slapstick humour, tetchiness and camaraderie in generous proportions. The director touches on the politics of terrorism and, significantly, the difficulties faced by the characters in reconciling their adopted culture and its sensibilities with their own cultural values and religious righteousness.

However, the strength of the movie is in the fact that Morris doesn’t dwell too long on the politics of fundamentalism and identity crises; nor does he attempt to paint a vivid background or bother too much with substance. (He’s far more concerned with writing-in the most colourful Urdu abuses: “I’ll fuck your aunty standing up!” is one of the best ones. Or maybe the sub-title guys just cocked that up).

Instead Four Lions pokes fun firstly at society’s imperfections, paranoia, cynicism and prejudices; Omar’s brother is a far more orthodox Muslim who fits the ‘fundamentalist’ stereotype perpetuated by the mainstream media but has a far more conciliatory approach to life.

Morris then chips away at the collective idiocy of everyone involved and to great comic effect too; from the government and its’ war on terror, the intelligence community, the sensationalist segments of the media to Jihadis and everything being about “God’s Will”; from the naivety and clumsiness of the bombers to the staggering incompetence of the police. In amongst it all he manages to throw in some extremely touching moments as well without the narrative ever becoming syrupy.

Four Lions is a brilliantly funny and touching debut from a fearless director who has successfully accomplished the tough task of taking a sensitive subject and dressing it up in a really funny costume (or costumes in this case). The politics is relevant but never overshadows the humour. As the director himself puts it, laughing, especially at ourselves, is always a better alternative to killing.
- Vijitha Alles

Four Lions is released in the UK 7th May.
Image courtesy of Optimum Releasing.

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