Mocking the Terrorists

I went to see Four Lions yesterday while it was still doing the rounds. I wanted to have the kind of laugh that runs along the lines of Team America's wrongness, and Chris Morris has always been a bit of a trailblazer when it comes to savagely satirizing touchy social issues.

Four disillusioned souls, their spirits broken by the monotony of their urban life, the absence of the happiness promised by white faces staring at them with products in their hands has, by some twist of fate brought them together with their shared dissatisfaction. By the point the film has started, this has stewed and morphed into a desire to make a name for themselves by striking a blow against all those things that have ignored them. Fortunately, their futile and undirected existence to this point has not exactly equipped them for precision terrorising.

Waj is not a good start. He is a step below Private Pike and only a smidge above Private Baldrick in his awareness of the world around him (and played very well by the otherwise canny Fonejacker Kayvan Novak). Faisal is little better, a quiet soul lurking behind a beard and heavy clothing, spending his private hours training crows as flying suicide bombers. Islamic convert and seething ball of frustration Barry seems to be on the fall from a previously quite adequate middle-class existence, whose only remnants are a battered old Citroen and a quiet town house in the middle of infidel central. The anger and frustration bred from cognitive dissonance of his old life with his new ideals make him the self-appointed driving force of the group, changing his opinions and interpretations as suits him to get to the goal of making a name for himself as a martyr. Only Omar shows any sign of sense, being a family man with a wife and child, (bizarrely his nurse wife is fully aware and presumably backs his intentions and his young son has already been brought up to believe in the glory of martyrdom). Between them they will resemble what thankfully 99% of potential terrorist groups in this country are like - filled with hate and idealism, but hindered by incompetence and lacking brainpower.

The group meet together at their various homes to go over their progress, which involves a lot of shouting and bigging themselves up, but not much actually getting done. After a less than successful trip to Iraq to train as terrorists, Waj and Omar return to find a new member Hassan, barely out of school but full of naive and unfocused energy, which Barry fancies he can hone.

Given the amount of time the five principal characters spend on thinking through any one aspect of their agenda, how they got into this self-appointed crusade seems more down to an Islamic terrorist template being something that Muslims 'do' in the current age, rather than any of them actually having anything particular to die for. When a plan is finally put into force to plant themselves as suicide bombers in the London Marathon, they finally have a purpose, but do they have enough brain cells between them to pull it off?

Director Chris Morris is well known for controversy, but in this film, he seems to have tempered his blade a bit. Whether that is down to a (quite understandable) fear of a Jihad being stamped on his head, or whether it was that the pointedness of the plot was researched out of existence (work on the film apparently began before the 2005 bus bombings in London, and has involved research and consultation from all sides including the Police and Muslim representatives). What happens here is certainly very funny in places, and even a little touching in others, but the feeling that Morris is about to say or do something outrageous around the next corner but never does is an unfortunate consequence of his reputation preceding him, and instead he takes the slightly safer route of allowing the characters to be intensely mockable. What results is a modern-day retelling of The Ladykillers, but with a twisted idea of fame as the driving force, rather than money.

I do by all means recommend this film be seen as it is a funny and knowledgeable demonstration of how serving an ideal often means instead serving the desires of others, often at our own expense. Just don't go into it expecting anything scathing or controversial, or it will spoil your enjoyment. Also, if you're bothered that some nutjob might try and blow themselves up after the show I wouldn't worry, as there's enough in there to embarrass the most ardent jihadist and make them think twice about what a knob they're being. 7.5/10

UK viewers should be able to see it quite soon on the telly as it was made by FilmFour, their output is generally shown shortly afterwards (maybe this Christmas).

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