Wow. Truly, wow. I'm not exactly speechless (that's a bad thing for a film critic to be), but I don't think I've ever seen a film quite like Chris Morris' Four Lions. It's a comedy. That much I know for sure. A political comedy, in a way, but more specifically I suppose, it's a terrorism comedy. And, needless to say at this point, it's a pitch-black satire the likes of which we rarely see. I'm certainly not making the comparison, but Four Lions has the balls of a Network, a Dr. Strangelove, and a M*A*S*H. Possibly all three films combined. Adjectives like provocative, incendiary, audacious, and shocking come immediately to mind.
Is the world (OK, is America) ready for a broad and witheringly trenchant farce about Al Qaeda aspirants who scheme and bumble their way into blowing up a London "fun run" marathon? A comedy that satirizes young terrorists like Police Academy lampooned stupid policemen? A slapstick farce in which suicide bombers are (for lack of a better word) the heroes?? I cannot offer an opinion on that, but I can say that I'm grateful to attend film festivals, which is sometimes the only place to find movies this outrageously "edgy" ... yet powerfully intelligent. If Four Lions is not the best film I see at Sundance this year, then that's good news for me: that means I'll be seeing something awesome in the next three days.
As the film opens, we meet a group of London-based goofballs who desperately want to blow something up. They're not sure what they should destroy, or even why, but they seem convinced that strapping themselves down with explosives is the appropriate thing for five young, radical Muslims to be excited about. There's the charismatic leader Omar (Riz Ahmed), the powerfully obtuse sidekick Waj (Kayvan Novak, hilarious), the caucasian-yet-militant Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the musically-inclined Hassan (Arsher Ali), and the monumentally paranoid Faisal (Adeel Akhtar). The bad news is that the quintet is planning something bad. The good news is that the quintet is a generally clueless and consistently inept crew.
It's probably important to remember that director Chris Morris (Brass Eye) and co-writers Jesse Armstrong (In the Loop) and Sam Bain (a metric tonne of UK productions) are mocking extremist values, and not all Muslim ideals ... plus they do the world a great service by trying to de-mystify this type of horrifying behavior. If it's true that we stop being scared of something once we're able to laugh at it ... well then Four Lions has made me feel just a little bit better about the war on terror. Four Lions, you see, is (according to the filmmakers) loosely based on actual blunders made by terrorist cells.
But just when you think Four Lions is nothing but rapid-fire (and frequently profane) banter about the inner workings of a terrorist plot with lots of exotic slang thrown about, the film throws you something unexpectedly warm, insightful, or just plain weird. Some may sense tonal shifts that contradict one another. Others, like me, see a film that's intent on keeping you on your toes.
Best of all, this is some grade-A high quality DARK comedy of the "take no prisoners" variety, and I say that's always cause for some celebration. Certainly not for all tastes, but an absolutely unique treat for those who like a little danger in their comedy, Four Lions is further proof that the Brits nail "topical" comedy earlier and better than anyone. Oh, and the entire ensemble is simply hilarious. Even if you find the subject matter too distasteful to poke fun at, there's little denying the quick wit and chemistry of the five leads.