Four Lions

Four Lions

A film that takes the power out of both the Jihadists and terror-peddling fear-mongers.


It has been said that to understand a thing, one needs to be able to make fun of it. That is absolutely the premise behind Chris Morris' Four Lions, one of the most critically-acclaimed and highest grossing movies internationally last summer. It didn't create as massive a splash with American audiences that it did overseas, no doubt because we find it difficult, even ten years later, to see the humor in jihadist terrorism. However, it's precisely that fact that makes it so absolutely necessary for us to be able to treat the topic lightly. This of Four Lions as a kind of contemporary Dr. Strangelove. "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jihadist."

     The premise of the movie is a satirical treatment of suicide-bombers, in particular a hapless group of London-based Jihadists who enter into a bit of a comedy of errors as they attempt to make plan and pull off the perfect suicide bombing. The main character, Omar (Riz Ahmed) is a seemingly happily married man with a wife and child in perfect middle-class England. He is even somewhat of a progressive Muslim; his wife works, speaks with men, gives her husband advice like, "You were much more fun when you wanted to blow yourself up." A perfect Jihadi nuclear family. He even tells his some bedtime stories of Jihadi Simba fighting and blowing up the evil Capitalist Scar (a Lion King reference, if you missed it). Just this simple set-up is so contradictory that we immediately understand that the story is satirical, to say nothing of his terrorist "cell".

     Omar's cell is made up of his slow-witted brother Waj (Kayvan Novak), a white-convert Jihadi blowhard named Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a moronic friend that attempts to rig bombs to crows named Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), and a terrorist-rapper named Hassan (Arsher Ali) who stages terrorist attacks with party poppers and blackcats rather than bombs. "It's the gestah (gesture), that messed ya!" This group is so hopelessly stupid and dysfunctional that it becomes apparent early on that anything they are going to try to accomplish will not pan out. The humor at parts is so quick and sharp that I had to stop and rewind to catch what I had missed, delivered with all of the seriousness of real jihadis, but none of the gravity. Barry, by far the most aggressive and outspoken of them, recruits Hassan at one point in the film. Driving his rusty little matchbox of a car, he invites Hassan into the car. "You like gestures, eh?" Barry asks threateningly. "What about this gesture?" He runs the car forward at a crawl, bumping the fender into a brick wall close by. "What about that? That was no gesture, that was real." His maniac eyes and fanatical tone completely antithetical to the impotent little point he was trying to make.

     Four Lions left me feeling conflicted, but not in the fact that I really enjoyed it. However, Morris gives the film some seriousness in places, but immediately provides levity with some other hair-brained comment or device. In this way he's able to keep viewers off-balance, and show the humanity of these ne'er-do-well bombers, but also maintain the side-aching humor of their bumbling efforts. It's this kind of levity that makes viewers, at least in some way, see both the humanity of fundamentalist Muslim communities without the fear and preconceived notions that make it difficult to bridge understanding. Of course, in lieu of that, it's a really brilliantly funny black comedy.

Watch the trailer below and you won't be able to resist. Now on Netflix Instant View.