Review: Four Lions
When I first heard of Christopher Morris’ Four Lions and it being a comedy in relation to suicide bombers I was both curious and concerned. The War on Terror spearheaded by the U.S. and the UK has caused a lot of controversy on both sides of the Atlantic and there have been some devastating tragedies since both sides took up arms. This is a seemingly endless debate dealing with right and wrong, but it’s a subject that can’t be ignored and my hope was that Four Lions would give some credence to this.
The film traces a group of Muslim men in Sheffield who are eager to be trained up as suicide bombers. Amongst the group are the leading member Omar (Riz Ahmed), the slow-witted Waj (Kavvan Novak), Barry (Nigel Lindsay) who is a white convert to Islam and the naive Faisal (Adeel Akhtar). When Omar and Waj head for Pakistan to be trained by fellow jihadists, a disgruntled Barry takes matters into his own hands and recruits a fifth member, Hassan (Arsher Ali), to their cause. When Omar and Waj return, the group have to overcome the obstacle of conflicting personalities before planning and executing a devastating attack against the UK.
You might wonder where the comedy is after reading that. Well, it is to be found in a great cast of characters. Omar is the serious one of the group, very intelligent and organised, and frequently frustrated by his friends. Waj goes along with whatever Omar says, clearly struggling to think of complex things for himself. Barry is highly amusing, a force of nature frequently trying to exert authority on the group and sometimes displaying his complete lack of Islamic tradition, especially when he suggests the group bomb a mosque! Faisal is another amusing character, believing he is deceptive when frequently he is foolish; his account of frequent trips to the local shop to buy large quantities of items, such as bleach, is hilarious as he demonstrates different voices (all the same!) that he uses to avoid arousing suspicion! Hassan is young and passionate, clearly determined to fight for the jihadist cause but he demonstrates his inexperience, especially when the group return to their safe house and find him listening to music and dancing with a neighbour, despite explosives and other incriminating evidence strewn throughout the house!
The film keeps delivering the laughs but at the same time it does address the serious subject of what these men have to do and what they believe. As the attack looms the group have varying reactions to it. Omar is passionate but he knows he will leave behind his wife and young son. His brother represents another side to Islamic faith, a peaceful existence, yet beneath this exterior is the attitude that women should be subdued and obedient to men, something Omar doesn’t subscribe to. Barry is the most extreme of the group, determined to carry through the operation no matter what the cost. Eventually, the group’s efforts lead them to the London Marathon where they have to don some amusing outfits. Whether they go through with the attack or are foiled is not for me to say. Very aptly, the laughs recede during these final scenes.
Four Lions is a brave film and it would have been clear from the start that this isn’t for everyone. Personally, I thought this was well-made and very funny in places given the delicate subject matter. I believe the film will make audiences think about the global issue more but at no time does it preach that jihads are good or evil. This is about perspective and though we learn some of the motivations for the eventual attack in London there is no glorification or condemnation. I thought all the characters were great in the film, a varied group each with their own qualities. Just don’t mention that crow or the sheep to me!
Four Lions works as a comedy but also a commentary on contemporary events that show no sign of being resolved any time soon. This can be watched just as comedy but it may also make you think and reflect for a time. While I don’t agree with violence in any form, I do appreciate that we all have our own beliefs and perspectives about what is right and wrong. Four Lions offers perspectives but it never says these are the right ones for us all.
(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)