There’s a website that I like to visit called TVTropes.org that is sort of the wikipedia of popular culture and the conventions used for creating fiction in all of its mediums. One of the tropes they discuss is a phenomenon known as “Poe’s Law” which states that “a parody of something extreme can be mistaken for the real thing, and if a real thing sounds extreme enough, it can be mistaken for a parody.” Try to say something so extreme on any internet forum where you can only possibly be joking but say it completely straight and see just how many people think you’re being serious. I’m bringing this up because the film I just watched, Chris Morris’ brilliant political satire Four Lions is a scathing indictment of fanaticism as well as the way that western conservatives see all Muslims. If you don’t come into this film as a liberal or someone who at least knows a little bit about Muslim culture (which this film intentionally doesn’t portray accurately at all), this film could end up negatively reinforcing some false and awful stereotypes you have about Muslims and the Islamic faith. For every one else in the audience who will get that this is a comedy and satire, this is one of the best political satires I’ve seen since In the Loop, another hilarious British satire I watched in this blog’s original format.
Four Lions is a brilliant send-up of the notion of “home-grown” terrorists and chronicles the incompetent exploits of five British Muslims who believe that they are al-Qaeda jihadists ready to martyr themselves for their beliefs. Omar (The Road to Guantanamo‘s Riz Ahmed) is the group’s ring-leader and is joined by his dim-witted friend Waj (Kayvan Novak), the boisterous Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the paranoid Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), and the newest recruit Hassan (Arsher Ali). Over the course of the film, these “Lions” bungle their way through one failed mission after another, whether this is going to Afghanistan and accidentally killing Osama bin Laden, having one of their members blow up on accident while running through a sheep field strapped with explosives, and generally making complete fools of themselves. They only want to be martyrs and go to paradise but when they can’t even think to buy the materials for their homemade explosives from more than one store, their heavenly reward of virgins is going to be much harder to come by than they had planned on.
This film is legitimately laugh-out-loud hilarious. I haven’t heard this much cursing in a British film since the last time I watched In the Loop‘s profanity laden monologues from Malcolm Tucker (seriously watch that clip. it might not make any sense out of context if you haven’t seen the film, but if you have, you’ll laugh your ass off again). These men were just so unbelievably bad at being terrorists. Omar is supposed to be the most level-headed and intelligent person in the group, but he was the one who fired the bazooka the wrong way and killed Osama bin Laden (this film came out before his actual death). It viciously mocks the way that people use ideology to manipulate and corrupt harmless religions and harmless people. Waj isn’t a bad guy; he’s simply being dragged along by Barry and Omar because he’s too dumb to make any decisions for himself. No one comes out unscathed from this film’s unflinching eye for humor and biting social commentary. This film shouldn’t offend any Muslims or any intelligent people. The only people that may take it the wrong way would be those that aren’t smart enough to figure out what it was about in the first place.
As long as you can hear the phrase “comedy about terrorists” and not cringe or immediately begin making moral approbations, then I’d recommend taking this film for a drive. It’s smart, hilarious, and it even makes you think. There are certainly people out there that it may offend, but if you’ve got a sense of humor about yourself, this movie should be easy enough to handle. This is dark comedy, not at it’s darkest (that award certainly goes to Happiness) but perhaps at its most outrageous. With a great cast, great gags, and some gutbusting set pieces, Four Lions was a remarkable debut from a British talent who is sure to make a name for himself in British comedy.
Final Score: A-