Four Lions

I am constitutionally primed to enjoy a film which yuks it up around subjects that terrify or infuriate, and when I heard about Chris Morris’ slapsticky take on radicalized English Muslims, intent on joining the jihad through suicide bombing… well, damn. How fantastically inappropriate–perhaps it would be a more vigorous bit of tomfoolery than Albert Brooks’ Looking for Comedy in the Moslem World. It was. And it was even better yet: Morris uses familiar conventions (the hapless schmoes, on a foolish quest) which amplify our identification, and the film’s final moments had a surprising emotional edge.

I’d really like to talk about this, but I don’t want to spoil stuff. Certainly Morris exploits some fantastic bits peculiar to the situation he’s set up — a series of “bloopers” during the guys’ attempts to film a final confessional video; the use of a kids’ social-networking site as (allegedly) a means for terrorist communication; fun with explosives. But I was impressed by how familiar the set-ups and quest were: by playing off/up various conventions, Morris subverts the exotic otherness of the scenario. Or, same coin different side, tired comic tropes are goosed when re-framed here. For example, a family meeting at a moment of crisis, where Omar (the amazing Riz Ahmed) is given moral support by his wife and son, would be a tedious cliche but here is always marked by the fucked-up chutzpah of the set-up. His family is in a nutshell bucking up our hero’s confidence so that he can get back to the plans to strap on a bomb.

But such chutzpah isn’t merely in service to blackly funny ironies, or messing with the audience. Morris had me actually wanting the guy to succeed — partly ’cause that’s what we do, when we watch a comic quest: we empathize with the protagonist; partly ’cause Omar is not just the Moe poking his even more dimwitted colleagues’ eyes, he’s a terribly likable guy: a good dad, a loving husband, a good friend. As the film moves toward its conclusion, Omar has become our human connection–we care about him. The film does an excellent job deflating the anxieties of the social and political tensions, but its greatest power is in producing a strong, sympathetic portrayal of those attracted to radical terror. . . an impish (rather than pious) deconstruction of the Islam-is-Evil hyperbole.

One thought on “Four Lions

  1. First fifteen minutes or so made me laugh out loud. Other bits were really funny, beautifully ludicrous even. Still, I never once believed that anyone on the screen was genuinely attracted to “radical terror”; it all seemed like a stunt (how far can the filmmakers push their conceit without losing the audience). Omar’s likability is always grounded in the fact that he is a loving husband and good dad (and it is impressive that the film doesn’t condemn him for fucking it all up). I tried not to think too hard about the fact that he was willing to sacrifice their love for him for a cause which was both supremely abstract and rarely if ever intellectually or even ideologically embedded in the action (nothing about it disturbed me in the least). It was a silly satire that made me laugh (and made me fast-forward on a few occasions), but I never felt the anxious pull of fear or ambivalence. I had no investment in any of the events which brought upon the film’s conclusion. But I laughed at the chutzpah of it all. Waj was probably my favorite character, and his chicken/rabbit confusion was hilarious. Also enjoyed Hassan with his hip-hop stylings and his performance art meets terrorism shenanigans. These two really brought the funny.

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