Monday, September 13, 2010

Four Lions

The seeds of Four Lions were sown, according to writer-director Chris Morris, when he learned of the tale of a gang of would-be suicide bombers that intended to ram a boat full of explosives into a US Warship. Their plan was thwarted when their own vessel sank not long after launch. Morris found this funny, at which point it dawned on him that he had never thought (much, presumably like the rest of the world) that there would be the possibility of there ever being anything funny or amusing about the world of suicide bombers.

With some writing, and an understandable battle to get financing, Chris Morris has from this spark of an idea delivered one of the funniest films I have ever seen. Funny as in you laugh out loud, with tears in your eyes and pains in your side as you watch it. Funny as in for days afterwards you remember moments for days after you’ve watched it and just want to watch the whole thing again.

As most reviews across the web have started, I’m not sure how exactly one can give away “spoilers” when there is perhaps only one conclusion to a film about suicide bombers. As carefully as I will go with this review, please consider there to be *** SPOILERS AHEAD ***. Rather just go and watch the film as soon as possible, really, don’t worry too much about reading this now, if at all.

Presumably only because of the use of the letter “s”, a number of reviews and commentators have described this film as being “The Spinal Tap of suicide bombers”. As brilliant as This Is Spinal Tap was and is to this day, that does Four Lions something of an injustice. The scale and genius of the film means that it only has two natural peers – Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove and Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. In regards of films that stand on toes and make people laugh, Four Lions stands up very, very well indeed against these two celebrated movies.

The film follows Omar, a man who leads an apparently happy life as a family man and a shopping centre security guard, who wants along with three of his friends to become “extremist martyrs”. The film rather wisely does not bog itself or the viewer down with how it is that he or his friends came to this wish, instead accepting it as being and moving on with the plot of them getting to this, if you will, goal.

Thanks to a presumably connected or otherwise involved Uncle, Omar travels off for training with the Mujahidin. This doesn’t, as you either see or will have seen, go quite as well as it could, but undeterred Omar returns home quite adamant that martyrdom is for him. And, bar a brief mention of the wonderful telling of The Lion King (“Simba’s Jihad”, no less), that’s all I am going to touch on plot wise.

What makes Four Lions a brilliant piece of cinema is the same thing that makes all movie masterpieces what they are – an innovative, ingenious script coupled with a number of remarkable acting performances. No part is left under or forcefully over developed. Full credit to Chris Morris & his writing team for turning this into something more than a one joke movie, bravo to the cast for giving performances of distinction.

The major surprise, for me at least, is that there has not been a barrage of protests and complaints about this movie. Usually, when any subject considered “sensitive” is made into any sort of movie, let alone a comedy, one can expect the usual brigade of protests from people who may very well have not even seen the film. I would like to think that the response in this respect thus far has been muted because people appreciate the film for what it is, more likely it’s because it has not had all that wide release, though.

In respect of whether or not the subject matter of this film should be used for comedy, well, I am reminded of a Billy Connolly routine, where the Big Yin discussed how Fred West tried to have him stop doing jokes about him as it “might prejudice his case.”. Nine dead bodies in his garden, and he’s worried about a stand up comedian. Anyway, Billy made comments about laughing at things like that because they were so absurd sometimes comedy was the only way you could make sense of it, or indeed “rationalise” it. Billy of course found himself at the wrath of the media when he made comments in his routines about kidnapped Brits being beheaded in Iraq, but even then the protests were about it being “too soon to mock” rather than his content. If we take it as a given that there’s never a right time to make a comedy about suicide bombers, as such, if not now, when?

A number of newspapers have, of course, pestered relatives of the victims of suicide bomb attacks, notably the 7 July attacks in London. Finding this film funny is absolutely no insult to any particular victim, and I doubt very much Chris Morris set out to tarnish or poke fun at the memory of any tragic victim.

Four Lions does not set out to either deliberately offend anyone or shy away for causing offence. Anyone who has followed the works of Chris Morris, in particular the brilliant Why Bother?, and of course Brass Eye (“it’s Paedogeddon” anyone?), will appreciate that controversy is an unfortunate side of effect of what he does that makes us laugh, not a desired result. The makers of this film really didn’t seem to particularly care about any threats or backlash that might arise – the main intent was to make a funny, entertaining film, and this they have done exceptionally well. It’s not for everyone of course, but then again what film is?

Suicide bombers probably shouldn’t be the basis for a very funny film. In the hands of a talented man like Chris Morris, though, it’s exactly that. If you have a taste for the darker side of comedy, see this film as soon as you can, or if you followed my warnings earlier, watch it again.
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