Islamic terrorism is not, at first glance, an innately funny subject. What is funny about blowing yourself and numerous innocents up in a hateful attack on the decadent West? Quite a lot, it turns out.
Four Lions, the first feature effort from Brass Eye creator and all-round satirical genius Chris Morris, is a daring piece of filmmaking. The plot revolves around a band of wannabe suicide bombers and their efforts to blow up the London Marathon. Or a mosque. They can’t decide which.
The group consists of Omar, the level headed, ostensibly Westernised mastermind of the group; his likeable but thick as fudge sidekick Waj; white Islamic convert Barry, and their friend Faisal, whose beard-hiding antics feature heavily in the film’s trailer. We follow the group through the travails of a training camp in Pakistan, endless internal bickering and a tragic yet inexplicably amusing incident involving a sheep.
It is said that there is a fine line between comedy and tragedy, and never has the cliché rang more true than in the case of Four Lions. The film somehow drags its audience through the spectrum of human emotion as each scene progresses. There were times when my belly laugh was the only one in a cinema of shocked faces, and others when my shock played out to a chorus of hysterics from the aisles.
This is the beauty of Four Lions. It challenges everybody’s perceptions and everybody reacts a different way. The film may rely heavily on farce for its humour, but it is not on humour alone that it lives and dies. It is the touching moments of brotherly love between the protagonists, the seething frustration in their disagreements, and their ultimately human desire to influence a world in which they feel anonymous, that connects with their audience.
Four Lions is even-handed with its satirical knife. There is no discernable bias for or against religion; indeed the film isn’t really about religion or Islam at all. The would-be bombers are the butt of many jokes, but the most savage of all rebukes is for the bungling Metropolitan Police in an obscenely funny but poignant pastiche of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.
The film has its flaws, however. The relationship between Omar and his wife and child in particular is shallow in its portrayal. Their circumstances are never fully explained, and Omar himself is a character whose complexity is sometimes lost in the sea of mirth produced by his witless companions. These are small quibbles, however, in a movie that ultimately hits its target dead on. The subject of jihad, so long a flashpoint for fury, is shown in all its humanity. It is furious yet farcical, potent yet pitiful.
Four Lions will cause controversy only amongst those who have not seen it. Morris once again has scored a victory over tabloid hysteria and the chattering classes alike. Terrorism has never been this entertaining.