I am a huge fan of director Christopher Morris. He is probably best known for his work on ‘The Day Today’ and ‘Brasseye’, two sharply observed TV shows that, mostly, balanced blisteringly funny comedy with timeless satire. When I heard that Morris was directing a feature, I could barely contain my excitement. Not only did this film not disappoint, but I consider it one of the finest comedies ever made.
The story centres on four Muslim friends who plot a terrorist attack during the London Marathon. Their plan is constantly put at risk through circumstance and their own stupidity, which leads to a funny yet tragic inevitability.
Morris has never shied away from addressing delicate and often uncomfortable subject matter in his work and ‘Four Lions’ is no different. Morris caused outrage with the “Paedophile” episode of ‘Brasseye’; an episode which ultimately led to the show’s demise. To make a comedy about terrorism, in the current geo-political climate could have ended in disaster. Recent events in France, involving the Charlie Hebdo publication, show that satirising this sort of subject matter does not go unnoticed. I think this is brave, raw filmmaking and shows that comedy is a viciously honest genre that allows filmmakers to explore real life issues.
I found the film hilarious. Laugh out loud hilarious. Understand, it is not the plot or the attack itself that is funny; far from it. It is the circumstances surrounding it that are funny. It is the characters ineptitude, innocence and poor choices that amplify the comedy. From one character wearing a clown costume upside down (if you have seen the film you will know what I am referring to), or another character confusing rabbits with chickens, Morris has managed in his unwavering genius, to find the funny in subject matter which is incredibly sensitive.
We laugh both at and with these characters. We laugh at their stupidity but care for them because they are innocent. Not in the sense that they have done nothing wrong, but in the fact that they do not fully understand the consequences of what they’re planning to do. There is great satire to be seen, in the way our society combats terrorism. One particular scene, where armed police raid a peaceful Muslim family’s house in error is perfectly observed comedy. The attitude of the characters towards dangerous weapons, where they treat them like a youngster would a firework, accurately sums up the nature of these people. It is perfectly pitched comedy, which appears controversial on the surface, but is, in fact, a shrewd social commentary. It doesn’t ask you to agree with these people, nor does it portray them one-dimensionally. The balance of the characters’ personalities emphasises the point of what a terrible waste of life it is, when these incidents happen.
One scene where the main character, played by Riz Ahmed, explains to his son what will happen to him, using a ‘Lion King’ analogy, is both funny and tragic. And that sums up the film perfectly. ‘Four Lions’ is achingly funny at times but also shockingly sad. In the end, we sympathise with these terrorists; and not because of their fate. But because it brings home the terrible realisation that the real life terrorists are not all psychopaths and nut-jobs, but are perfectly sane, calculating people. And that is what is most frightening of all.
Director: Christopher Morris
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Will Adamsdale, Adeel Akhtar, Arsher Ali