Four Lions (2010)

Director:  Christopher Morris
Cast:  Will Adamsdale, Riz Ahmed, Adeel Akhtar
Plot: Four incompetent British jihadists set out to train for and commit an act of terror.

Genre:  Comedy / Crime / Drama
Awards:  Won 1 BAFTA - outstanding debut, Nom. for 1 BAFTA - outstanding British film. Nom. for Grand Jury Prize (Sundance).
Runtime:  97min
Rating:  M18 for language throughout, including some sexual references.

Four Lions arrives in Singapore theaters one year late, but that does not render it any less relevant.  Marketed as a “Picturehouse Selection”, this uniquely constructed film is both accessible to mainstream audiences who are likely to appreciate the large doses of humor, and for film enthusiasts who are likely to see through its comic surface that hides a strong, but at times, depressing commentary of an issue that has plagued the modern Western society for some time now – terrorism.

Terrorism is always going to be a difficult and sensitive topic to broach.  And for a British film by a writer-director making his feature debut, it is most certainly a huge challenge. Fortunately for Christopher Morris, his work has been acclaimed by many, backed by a BAFTA win for Outstanding Debut.  The plot centers on four British jihadists who plan and attempt to pull off an act of terror in their home country.  The catch?  They are incompetent fools.  And as you will see, their childish stupidity gets them into tight situations and unforeseen circumstances.

Shot in a documentary style, including the obvious use of surveillance shots (e.g. the greenish night vision camera) and zoom shots that act as transition scenes, Four Lions is clearly a fictional story yet it is something more.  The film transcends its fictional realm of storytelling into one that is ostensibly, contextually real.  There is nothing funny about would-be terrorists talking about killing innocent victims, but Morris sets up these “villainous” characters in a way that allows us to notice the human struggle to justify their hideous actions.

Laced with profanity that comes out hilarious, the film brings to us a very shocking moment midway through that while still keeping the general comic tone of the film intact, changes the whole idea of the nature of humor as portrayed in the film.  Light, free-spirited humor gives way to a darker, more sobering form of humor.  This is where I feel Four Lions shines because the second half of the film casts the aforementioned jihadists in a new light, not one that is bathed in sympathy as that would ignite some kind of controversy, but as victims of their own beliefs.

By seriously making fun of terrorists, and terrorism in general, Morris has not only stuck a metaphorical dagger into the troubled hearts of these crazed guys, but also questioned the capability of authorities to handle a terror crisis.  If you can get past the thick British accent, Four Lions is a film that is consistently entertaining and offers a satirical lens to view terrorism as simply a pseudo-ideal created within the confines of the human brain.  Did I also mention that the film is surprisingly suspenseful?


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