An unsettling black comedy, Four Lions follows an inept group of Muslim terrorists as they attempt martyrdom. Released on Blu Ray March 8, Four Lions is one of those films that keeps you off-kilter just enough to be interesting and provide plenty of guilty laughs.
Omar (Riz Ahmed) and his jihadist brethren have big dreams. They want to make a difference in the world, martyr themselves and take out plenty of Western heathens with them. Omar and his very thick-skulled friend Waj (Kayvan Novak) team up with psychotic Muslim fanatic Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and young hopeful Hassan (Arsher Ali) to plan a bombing the world won’t soon forget. They’re going to ride the “rubber dinghy rapids” all the way to heaven.But beneath all that idealism and fanaticism, the brethren lose sight of what is right and wrong; and more importantly, what their hearts are telling them to do. Bombing slags and sex shops is their dream, but the reality proves a little trickier. Omar is having trouble corralling his brethren, as Barry is set on bombing a mosque (reverse psychology) and Waj and the others are so incompetent and inept nothing works the way it should.
After Omar and Waj get invited to Pakistan to attend a terrorist training camp, and then get kicked out of the camp for (among other things) taking pictures of themselves with their cell phones, it’s back to England to do some real damage. Except one of their teammates accidentally blows himself up, and the others can’t decide if he is a martyr or not. That’s not the beginning, but it’s certainly symptomatic of the troubles this band of silly jihadists face.
Christopher Morris, writer and director of Four Lions, has really done a lot with an extremely limited budget. He’s pushed the envelope on black comedies, presenting audiences with laughable terrorists. His concept is absurd, but it‘s the absurdity that makes it so funny. What makes it compelling is the strange squirming-in-your-seat discomfort that some of the funniest scenarios elicit.
The use of slang is rampant in this film, and joined with the thick accents it sometimes makes comprehension impossible. On top of the slang, they use strangely-worded sayings (which may be a regional thing and thus slang as well). I would suggest watching it with the subtitles on so you can catch all their quirky turns of phrases.
This film could be called controversial. It’s certainly a comedy, but about a subject so serious and unfunny that it may make audiences uncomfortable to see it satirized. I give Four Lions props for finding the comedy in a group of jihadists plotting bombings and blowing themselves (and the random bird or sheep) up. Both sides of the issue get equal treatment. Omar and his crew come across as incompetent and silly, but the police and intended victims of the bombings don’t fare any better under Morris’ twisted touch. It’s a dark satire about life, and instead of any political agenda the film presents humanity itself as joke-worthy.
The lush scenery of suburban England played beautifully in high def. The Blu Ray quality was crisp and clear, and lacked the graininess/roughness one might expect from a film shot within such a tight budget. This is probably due to the fact that the movie was shot in digital video, and the transfer is brilliant. The hand-cam terrorist videos they are making throughout the film look authentic in set-up and background, but the video and sound quality is far better than it would be in real life. The audio played well, though the dialogue was sometimes hard to make out. I attribute this less to the audio quality and more to the character’s thick accents and the ample use of slang. The soundtrack didn’t overwhelm the dialogue but did get overly loud in some instances. Your surrounds won’t get much of a workout and there’s nothing that stands out here but it’s sufficient for the type of film this is.
As far as extras, what we get is the following:
- Bradford Interview
- Behind the Scenes
- Lost Boys
- Interview with Mo Ali
- Deleted Scenes
The obvious shortfall is the lack of a director’s commentary, which would have been nice. There is an interesting (if light) Behind the Scenes segment and a Bradford Interview. I’m not sure why this little set of interview clips and making-of shots are entitled Bradford Interview, but it’s light fare. There are a few mediocre Deleted Scenes and Storyboards, as well as some interesting Background Material delving into the culture of young male British Muslim suicide bombers, and one following a white Muslim convert on trial for terrorism.
Four Lions is a refreshing movie. The satire is satisfying and it’s often very funny. The material may turn some people off but I think you should still give it a chance. Audio and video aren’t incredible but are solid enough and there are a few worthwhile features. Perhaps give it a rent first if you haven’t seen it. It may not be for everyone. But if you do enjoy it, you may want to consider a purchase.
Four Lions brings us some fresh satire that is both funny and absurd with some great over-the-top characters.