CAPSULE: This is a low-budget, dark comedy with a very clever concept behind it. Four dim-witted Jihadi warriors plan a giant terrorist attack in England, but bumble at just about every turn. Parts of the film are very funny and parts are misfires. But even on the misfires one almost feels one should laugh just to support the very idea of the film. Britain's TV director Chris Morris makes his first feature film for the movie branch of Britain's Channel 4. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Minor spoilers to convey the brand of humor.
Back when the telling of racist and ethnic jokes started coming into conflict with societal values I made the suggestion that if people really wanted to tell these jokes, the best thing they could do was reframe then as bigot jokes. (For example "Two bigots are building a house and one throws away half the nails...") Nobody seems to be particularly bothered if you tell jokes that are insulting to bigots. Nobody wants to admit that he is a bigot. Flash-forward to the present and not much humor is poked at the Islamic world for fear of starting riots and having fatal consequences. But British satirist Chris Morris has found a similarly ingenious way to poke fun at the Islamic Fundamentalist world. He has made a film about four would-be Jihadi terrorists who put together do not have the brains of a sheep. This film is sort of terrorist thriller crossed with THIS IS SPINAL TAP. I guess even people who sympathize with terrorist Jihadis do not sympathize with ones who have room temperature IQs.
Omar the leader (played by Riz Ahmed), Waj (Kayvan Novak), Barry (Nigel Lindsay), and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) are angry Muslims living in Sheffield. They decide they want to give up their lives to be like the suicide bombers they see in the news. They want to strike a blow for World Islam. They have the fire in their bellies to be really great martyrs and to echo down through history. But they are not really sure how to go about echoing down through history. They have just not come to terms with the fact that they are just a bunch of screw-ups who really should not be trusted with eating utensils, much less dangerous weapons and explosives. They get bogged down in the simple stuff. When they try to do the everyday tasks of a Jihadi terrorist they are beyond their grasp. The attempts to make a threatening videotape to explain their actions turn into a fiasco of incompetent filmmaking. They meet with teachers to train them how to use weapons most effectively, but the relationship breaks down when it is time for prayer and they strongly disagree on just what direction Mecca is. Even with such a small terrorist cell there is serious dissention about what their target should be and hard feelings when not everyone can get his way.
The film makes every attempt to mimic the style of a serious documentary. It is shot with a none-to-steady hand-held camera. The second half of the film is a little more serious at the Jihadis attempt to execute their plans, but one wonders how effective this band of buffoons can be.
These Jihadis may hate everything we stand for, but like us they are victims of Murphy's Law. For them everything that can go wrong (under Chris Morris's direction), will go wrong. They may be insane terrorists, but they are all too much like us. I rate FOUR LIONS a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. The greatest irony with the film is that when the terrorists accomplish anything at all the viewer is apt to feel good for them.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1341167
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/four_lions/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper