Directed by: Christopher Morris
Premise: A comedy about a group of would-be terrorists who attempt to fulfill their dreams of jihadist glory but are constantly foiled by their own stupidity.
What Works: Four Lions is a daring comedy and it is one of the most successful examples of a film dealing with the issue of terrorism. Its success as a comedy is directly attributable to its fearlessness. In much the same way that Dr. Strangelove satirized Cold War ideology and Monty Python’s Life of Brian lampooned religious devotion, Four Lions turns religious martyrdom into a comedy of errors. Showing influence from the style and pitch of Christopher Guest comedies like Waiting for Guffman, Four Lions thrusts the audience into the daily lives of a group of idiots and captures the absurdity of ideology and the madness of group-think. The film is unabashedly politically incorrect as it takes on religious martyrdom and the ways those involved attempt to rationalize their actions and ideology. It makes no attempt to excuse their actions or blame society although it does include nonviolent Muslims in the background whose presence puts the absurdity of the terrorist’s ideas and behavior in relief. Yet, as idiotic as the main characters of Four Lions are, the actors play it straight and the film creates a believable scenario in which the story takes place. Riz Ahmed plays the lead character, who is also the most intelligent of the bunch, and much of the film is seen through his eyes. Throughout his narrative, Ahmed’s character has moments of revelation and insight and although he does not possess the perspective or consciousness to fully comprehend it, the audience will. This is one of several ways in which Four Lions achieves subversive status, as it suggests that even suicide bombers are people too. The film also gives a ribbing to law enforcement, who are portrayed as clueless and unable to distinguish one Muslim from another.
What Doesn’t: As the terrorists execute their suicide mission, Four Lions attempts to pulls a switch in its tone similar to the transition in the second half of Good Morning, Vietnam. This switch is not entirely successful in Four Lions because the film crisscrosses back and forth between the reality and tragedy of suicide bombing and the comic absurdity of it. In some ways this is the film’s most subversive act: to visualize the most familiar symbol of contemporary religious terrorism and then invite the audience to laugh at it and thereby rob the act of its psychological power. It is a noble and audacious attempt and at the very least the contrast between the comedy and the tragedy is deliberately thought provoking.
DVD extras: None.
Bottom Line: Although the audience may not find themselves rolling in the aisles because of the subject matter, Four Lions is a very successful comedy. Its address of issues like terrorism and religious fundamentalism make it subversive and intelligent and it is worthwhile viewing by those looking for some perspective on those topics.
Episode: #338 (May 8, 2011)