With the hugely influential media satires of Brass Eye and The Day Today behind him Chris Morris has fixed his eye on a subject which doesn’t so much court controversy but stick its tongue down its throat – a comedy about suicide bombers.
And it takes someone with the comic genius and moral intelligence of Morris to make it funny, touching and leaving you with an indelible feeling of sadness and even sympathy for this group of hapless men.
Following his BAFTA winning short My Wrongs, Chris Morris’s feature film debut, Four Lions, concerns itself with a group of British Muslims intent on a suicide bombing, though all but one of the group are more intoxicated by the notion of martyrdom than the actual reality. In essence it is about four men in search of a purpose in life, but Morris throws in familial loyalty, idiotic twists of logic, surreal comedy of the darkest kind, religious angst and a collision of identity crises which make this film so much more than a comedy about terrorism.
This is a modern British classic, truly hilarious and unique, combining amazing performances with a twisted, almost surreal, momentum. It is a fine feature debut from Chris Morris, who has matured here into a capable director while maintaining the darkness and freakish nature of his previous works. If you’re a fan of his work then you will love it, if you’re not a fan then prepare to become one.
The film has been compared to This is Spinal Tap and this is partly a valid comparison, particularly when it comes to lifting the veil of fundamentalism to reveal a petty, selfish, farcical and ultimately human element to this group of people. Where the film differs from this comparison is the character of Omar, whose conflicting emotions and loyalties make up the beating heart of this film and it is his scenes with his family, especially the beautiful touch of the altered version of the bedtime story he reads to his son, which distance this film from merely being a Dad’s Mujahid.
The years of research Morris undertook pays off handsomely, and despite the expected tabloid frenzy this film will offend no-one but the stupid, and where the film succeeds most is the interplay between the main characters. Riz Ahmed, in particular, as the conflicted and pious Omar is an outstanding screen presence and carries the emotional momentum of the film through to its end, and his relationship with Waj (Kayvan Novak) is heartbreaking and hilarious, a fine line walked by both actors and writers.
Nigel Lindsay, Adeel Akhtar and Arsher Ali, who plays a nervous new recruit are all believable and brilliant in their roles, each bringing their own neuroses to a group which breaks apart and implodes as the film goes on. Nigel Lindsay’s Barry is a monster of cowardice and self-hatred whose terrible demented logic has a poisonous effect on the group and Lindsay plays it wonderfully.
Morris and his co-writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong should be praised for their ability to garner sympathy for these people, if not their aim, and it is this duality which is the film’s greatest triumph. I can’t go into spoilers here because this is a film you need to go in fresh for – the trailers you’ve seen may play up on the slapstick and the marvelous and nonsensical logic of the dialogue, but this film has a depth which its trademark Morris silliness belies.
There are moments of brilliance in Four Lions, both in the relationships whose development is heartbreaking and the events which shock and are gut punches, but Morris earns every single one of them. I couldn’t have imagined a better debut for Morris, who has established himself beyond his role as spearhead of a brutally satirical comedy generation and Four Lions is a triumph on every level. It has so much to say about this country and the conflicting identities we are left with after years of distant wars, and it is, importantly, brilliantly funny.
Film4 and Warp Films are to be congratulated for backing this film, and should reap the rewards – so go out and see it as soon as you can.
Four Lions is out in the UK on the 7th of May.