How many films can successfully and comedically satirize modern terrorism and prejudiced paranoia? Not many. I feel like the subject matter of Four Lions is something that would have been on the Ali G show. Or maybe it was. Anywho…
Four Lions is about a group of British-Arab-wannabe-terrorists. The plot revolves around Omar (Riz Ahmed) as he and his friends decide, among other things, what to bomb, whom to blame it on, and how to shoot a proper terrorism video.
Director Christopher Morris doesn’t have much technique, but this is a movie that gets by purely on script and acting. Morris’ camera placement is efficient, but rarely does his aesthetic add much to the film. This is often a complaint of mine, but Four Lions is a perfect example of a film where the lack of affect reads plainly as unobtrusiveness and not as unawareness.
Four Lions has the visual feel and pacing of an elongated skit. It utilizes short scenes, direct address to a video camera, and security camera views, all of which give it the visual weight of a reality television show. Luckily Morris’ extremely sharp script overcomes any and all obstacles.
There are great moments in Four Lions. Part of the fun of the film is also part of the shock. Omar’s wife Sofia (Preeya Kalides) is completely aware of his plot. She’s also entirely aware that he plans to be a martyr. And yet it’s treated as though it’s her husband applying for a new job (“You can do it, honey.” “Stick with it.”) Funny and shocking, indeed.
Morris also takes down elements of Islam, particularly those that take it to its misogynist extremes. In perhaps the best scene of the film Omar’s brother Mahmood (Mohammad Aqil) comes to visit. He refuses to cross the threshold while Sofia is present, but Omar and Sofia refuse to give in to his demands that she leave. They then taunt him with water pistols. Omar has the best line of the film here (“Obey me wife!”) and the button on the scene – Mahmood breaking down and shooting a water pistol back at them while insisting that he’s not condoning violence – lays plain contradictions, but also absurdities in any type of blind extremism.
What really makes Four Lions a great film in the end is its unwillingness to take the easy way out. The film gets rather dark in its final act and Morris successfully rides the thin line of very dark comedy. His vision is not a happy one and nearly everyone pays a price – whether it’s through violent tragedy, or, as in the case of Omar’s clueless work partner Matt (Craig Parkinson), through public obliviousness.