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STUDIO: Magnolia Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 102 Minutes
- Bradford Interview
- Behind the Scenes Segments
- Background Material
- Deleted Scenes
British TV’s favourite provocateur tackles Muslim terrorists with all the skill and charm of Armando Iannucci’s political satire, In The Loop.
Director: Chris Morris
Writers: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong, and Sam Bain
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, and Kayvan Novak
A group of inept British Muslims led by family man Omar (Ahmed) and crazy white convert Barry (Lindsay) form a lackluster terrorist cell with the aim of striking out at Western culture by performing a jihad. Can they stop bickering for long enough to decide on a target, or will their lack of common sense bring them down before they have the chance?
Have you ever noticed the way sometimes, for no apparent reason, you forget how to spell? You’ll find yourself cracking open that well-thumbed copy of Dubliners for the umpteenth time or maybe jotting down a reminder to yourself on the grocery list and, before you know it, you’ll be staring at the print wondering how many c’s are in succeed. I don’t know why the word “succeed” would be on your shopping list. Perhaps it’s for one of those fitness cereals Ray Winstone endorses. “Attack the day with Kellogg’s Succeed! Now with 4 whole flavours of oat-grain.” Or maybe I should have just used food as my example. Anyway, the point is you know the word in question is spelled correctly yet there you are second guessing yourself. Well, why does the same thing not apply to sayings? Words are allowed to be ambiguous, acquiring or shedding meanings (and, indeed, spellings) over time. But sayings are supposed to be fixed nuggets of wisdom, something you can always count on like an everlasting gobstopper or Ryan Giggs.
They aren’t though. The early bird might catch the worm. Whether or not every cloud, in fact, has a silver lining is relative. The biggest offender in this department, however, is a local favourite of mine: “if he had brains, he’d be dangerous.” As some of my fellow Northern Irish brethren have been proving for several decades, brains are far from a pre-requisite for danger. On the contrary, “the less brains he has, the more dangerous he becomes” might be closer to the mark. Four Lions explores this notion, mining it for laughs with military precision. In a market flooded with brazen “bromances” and lunk-headed spoofs, the film’s arrival isn’t so much a breath of fresh air as it is a hurricane of wry intelligence sweeping out the comedic dead wood one pointless pop culture reference at a time. At once a hilarious outsider lark and a thoughtful look at the politics (or lack of) behind terrorism, this is the cinematic equivalent of humour as defence-mechanism; if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry, as another saying goes. Films dealing with terrorism in one way or another, post-9/11, have understandably been somber affairs for the most part. Somewhat inevitably, “don’t you dare laugh” becomes the prevailing tone when real events of this nature are at hand. Four Lions fictionalizes a very real threat, thereby allowing it to really get to grips with the sticky issues at hand. With no obligation to preserve an austere mood or scream its factual credentials throughout, the film can expose the absurdity the Media buries under six feet of terror with every scaremongering headline.
On paper, Chris Morris tackling Muslim panic in the U.K. is every bit as perfect as Patrick Stewart playing Professor X or Liam Neeson as Abraham Lincoln (don’t stop believing.) As anyone familiar with The Day Today and/or Brass Eye – the still prescient TV work which made his name – will tell you, Morris has been holding a mirror to moral panics and gullibility for years, then pointing and laughing at the reflection. Not out of maliciousness or malaise so much as disbelief for how out of control people can become when the stakes are high or at least perceived to be. In many ways, the tale of a would-be Western bashing Muslim assault team was tailor-made for him and the result is nothing short of remarkable. In the years since Morris co-anchored alongside Alan Partridge (if you haven’t seen the shows mentioned above, do yourself a favour) or stole every scene he was in as the demented boss Denholm, head of Reynholm Industries, in The IT Crowd, his devastating wit has lost none of its power. Whether it be Waj (a wonderful Kayvan Novak) innocently moving closer to a video camera so his toy AK-47 will appear life-size in his home-made war message, or a pair of snipers debating whether a Wookiee falls under the classification “bear”, every moment rings hilariously true, never once feeling manipulated or self-important. Considering this is a film featuring a would-be suicide bomber running around London disguised as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, that’s nothing short of incredible.
Although every set-piece is dotted with fantastically quotable dialog (“with the greatest of respect, Faisal, your Dad eats newspaper”) a certain amount of the film’s humour stems from its conventional us vs. them structure. There’s a degree of similarity between Omar and co’s call to arms and any number of sports or crime movies. From the amorphous coming together stage through to disastrous training at a Mujahideen facility in Pakistan and back home for the moment of truth, these men all assume clear, familiar roles in the buddy/team picture mould. Omar is the leader by default, rather than through any excellence on his part. This loving father and husband is struggling to come to terms with his sense of duty; he also just happens to be a security guard by trade, the surest window into the film’s none-more-black tone there is. Played with quiet composure by Riz Ahmed, Omar is simply the best of a bad bunch. It’s up to him to bring what order he can to proceedings. His gormless brother Waj is the clown, a simpleton so unaware of his ignorance he becomes charming. Barry, the group’s non-Urdu speaking English convert, is the real brains behind the operation in his mind and a boorish fool in reality. His constant attempts to steer the group into increasingly ridiculous endeavors (like blowing up a Mosque to get the disaffected local Muslims to “rise up”) provide plenty of conflict alongside the constant menace from phantom “Feds” watching their every move. Omar has his hands full keeping an eye on Waj without sparring with Barry over every last detail. Even though the inevitable strain this relationship endures isn’t altogether fresh on paper, the principals – especially Ahmed and Lindsay – energize the familiar with sharp, controlled performances.
It’s all very well and good having funny little set-pieces like new-recruit Hassan’s (Ali) jihad-themed raps or that crow scene, but none of it would count for much if it wasn’t riveting watching these wannabes struggle to pull off their dubious goal in the face of complete incompetence. What really lifts the film above its peers is its sensitivity, more pronounced here than in Morris earlier work like Nathan Barley. Omar’s home-life isn’t a tacked-on respite from all the guffaws; his wife (Preeya Kalidas) and doting son are fleshed-out, credible reminders that not every martyr is an emotionless, factory-line killing machine. It’s these glimpses of tenderness, particularly Omar’s take on The Lion King for his son’s bed time story, that resonate long after the laughs have faded.
An interview featuring Morris and the cast as well as behind the scenes segments and deleted scenes form the spine of the disc’s bonus features. There’s plenty here for fans of film’s more technical aspects to soak up. On-set footage of Morris directing and working out exchanges between his actors offers an insight into just how meticulous his working process is. Around half an hour of research material comprising interviews with Muslims across Britain is a strange but welcome addition. Made up mostly of hand-held docudrama style footage with various youths discussing their everyday lives and the racial tensions that impact them, it’s possibly most rewarding for viewers outside the U.K. who might be less familiar with the cultural attitudes and etiquette involved in mixed areas. Sometimes uncomfortable, it’s an important reminder of what makes the film so impressive. A handful of storyboards are the weakest inclusion, amounting to only a few minutes. Otherwise, this release (which is completely quibble-free as far as presentation goes with fine picture and sound) does justice to a splendid piece of work. To coin a (para)phrase, Farce Times Importance Equals Greatness!
Out of a Possible 5 Stars