Four Lions (2010) Review

Domestic terrorism isn’t exactly a subject that’s ripe for parody. The fear of a terrorist attack lingers in a post 9-11 world quite firmly, and one might think that’s the last place to find your laughs. Lucky for us, director Chris Morris saw a golden opportunity and brought Four Lions to life. This film is a fantastic comedy that will keep audiences rolling from beginning to end. It’s also just as relevant as it is comedic. It is a very poignant look at the lives of terrorists – lives your average person would never give a second thought. Four Lions manages to be both razor sharp and completely bonkers, and ranks among the year’s best releases.

Four Lions is about a group of London-based wannabe jihadists. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the de-facto leader of the bunch; he’s the most intelligent and focused. The rest of the rag-tag crew includes Waj (Kayvan Novak), Barry (Nigel Lindsay), and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar). Waj is Omar’s dimwitted and loyal best friend, Barry is an Anglo-Saxon Islam convert, and Faisal is the clumsiest bomb-maker of all time. The film follows their attempts to make extremist videos and strategize large scale attacks on the Western establishment.  Soon, Omar gets the call that his uncle in Pakistan can get him into a real-life terrorist training camp. Omar and Waj depart, while the others are left to maintain operations in London, much to a jealous Barry’s disdain. Omar and Waj embarrass themselves, and Barry and Faisal muck things up back in Britain. Barry invites another young idealist to join their cause and almost gets them exposed in the process. When the “terror cell” is back together they realize that the only way to make their point is to stage a large scale suicide attack, with the chosen target being the London Marathon. What follows is an outrageous climax, which manages to be both absurdly humorous and darkly violent.

Four Lions’ greatest strength lies in the way it points out the societal shortcomings that exist in all cultures.  It goes to show that even though terrorists are a very real threat in today’s world, they’re also people like everyone else.  And like lots of people, they can be morons. Four Lions takes what could be considered the most taboo subject around and creates a completely believable farce.

Audiences will almost sympathize with Omar as he patiently copes with his friends’ constant blundering, even though he’s a suicide bomber.  He’s a terrorist, but he cares about his friends. Ahmed accomplishes the nigh impossible and gives you a likable jihadist. Waj and Faisel are both a blast to watch as well. Faisel is just so sincere in his attempts to become a better bomber and his repeated missteps get funnier as he continually blows up birds and livestock. Waj gets one of the biggest laughs of the film when he suggests that they blow up the Internet. Barry is a scene stealer in his own right as well – a certifiable nut who would be right at home in the IRA or the American Nazi Party. He doesn’t care what the belief is as long as he gets to cause chaos.  This detestable character trait makes it a total hoot to see him erupt screaming in frustration and stay as the butt of the others’ jokes.

The film has more going for it than just the entertaining characters. Some great set pieces set in both England and Pakistan drive the action scenes. Despite being a comedy, the production does not skimp out on the drama and flair during their climactic moments. Explosions go off, rockets fly and panic definitely ensues.  Some really clever choices in music also help the film stay grounded in relevancy as well. It’s a genuinely funny spectacle watching Islamic “radicals” driving around in a van singing and dancing to pop music, when all they do is decry the Western value system.

Four Lions succeeds in everything it sets out to do. It’s funny, dramatic, and completely engaging from beginning to end.  It manages to be the perfect social commentary for today’s age of modern terror.  What really makes it worthy of such an accolade is that it manages to be funny, but does not compensate for its sense of reality. The film stays sharp and maintains plenty of tension and drama.  Audiences will never be so distracted by the humor that they forget that this is a film about the modern cultural climate and that these events are very realistic. Four Lions is tailor made for people who like their comedy as much as they like their CNN.

But…honestly?  It deserves to be seen by everyone, regardless of their existing perceptions or beliefs.