Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Review: Four Lions

Year: 2010
Director: Chris Morris
Screenplay: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Preeya Kalidas, Arshal Ali, Adeel Akhtar

Dealing with atrocity is a difficult thing, especially in artistic mediums such as film making. Despite being able to obtain information so easily these days, like like to stick to what we know. Black is black and white is white. Grey areas should not be acknowledged because they challenge us in ways we hate to be challenged in. So when you hear that Chris Morris (controversial creator of Brass Eye, Jam and the like) has decided to make a British comedy that makes light of Jihads and Muslim extremism...I'm not surprised that film bookers bulked at having his movie played in certain cinemas.

The thing is, Chris Morris works within that area that many hate to even think about. He tagged his movie Four Lions as the Dad Army side to terrorism and while it was all good fun to laugh at Mr Mannerings and his squad, it's important to release that until a certain point the home guard were poorly equipped and badly trained. Imagine the amount of mistakes and human error if the planned attack was to go forth. However, it didn't...and we laugh. Morris sees such absurdity and uses to push through the message that to repress, restrict and dread our fears only makes them stronger, to laugh at them may help us in the long run.

For me, Morris' film is one of the funniest films to come from this isle in years. It is paralysing funny, gleefully absurd and surprisingly tragic. Here our terrorist leads are humanised but we constantly shown that their plans and banal drivel are ludicrous. They are extremists that have no idea what they are being extreme about. Angry at the west and capitalism and yet they revel in what it brings. Only a film like this could have a wannabe jihadist yelling that he's a "paki-rambo" or have have our lead character the seemingly "level headed" Omar (a wonderfully, despairing Riz Ahmed) trying to explain his plan to his son (!) by using the Lion King (Disney, geddit?). It's a film that releases that despite the idea of one kamikazing themselves is a troubling one, it is also something in today's society that profoundly stupid. The characters while disarmingly human, are much like dogs who bark at themselves in mirrors. You just want to pet them on the head and show that life's not all bad.

Morris' film reminded me of this another film I loved this year: Extract. It's a another film that deals with how a lack of communication and misused information can create problems of absurdest proportions. Much like his Jam sketch about hiring stupid people for arguments because they're too idiotic to lose, Four Lions gives us empty headed vessels who are running head first into a wall due to bad guidance and confusion. But interestingly enough it also helps bring about reasons on why young men seem so willing to do something so drastic. They have no real idea about what they're supposedly fighting for and yet do so for pride, fame, peer pressure and for the thrill of it all. Morris' film directed in a very matter of fact visual style plays on the characters nativity and makes the films climax feel all the more poignant.

To help drive these idea home, Morris with Peep Show writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain write a script featuring dialogue that I found as quotable as Withnail and I. Carefully parodying fundamentalism and never the religion, the writers give the film a bizarre feeling of familiarity and abstractness. One scene has Barry (the brilliantly ignorant Nigel Lindsay) blaming his car breaking down due "jewish sparkplugs designed to control global traffic". You know you've heard similar right wing nonsense down the pub but still....sparkplugs?!? The film is full such moments of verbal diarrhoea that Morris has been so remembered for.

This is Morris at his best, warping the hysterical and sensitive into something that not only darkly comic, but more thoughtful than one would think. In the same way The Day Today makes it hard for you to take the news seriously any more, the same happens here, particularly in the films climax which chillingly lampoons the police's participation with the death of Jean Charles de Meneze ("It must be the target, I shot it"). When fully observed it's an amusing aside (is the honey monster a bear?) and yet one that once again stems from lack of knowledge, miscommunication and hasty aggression.

Four Lions (neatly knocking England's footballing pride) is defiantly not for everyone. Relatives from the 7/7 bombings have called for the film to be boycotted and it's very understandable on their emotions are running high. But Morris' film isn't one that trivialises their tragedy, it heightens our awareness and also makes us laugh. For some it's a tough watch but for those who are fans of one of Britain's top satirists you'll laugh or else you'll cry.