Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Four Lions

Treading that finest of lines between gentle comic absurdity and edgy observation, Four Lions is a marvellous creation. Comedy has always been that strangest of genres, able to provoke enormous controversy out of that most subjective and personal of art forms: humour. The film's creator, Chris Morris (working on his cinematic debut) of course is no stranger to this himself. Brass Eye famously ripped up the rule book when it came to what British TV audiences should find funny. Lions also has the capacity to unsettle, but in a more provocative, socially incisive vein.

Actually, beyond the sensationalist trailer which would look to make gratuitous humour out of an uncomfortable subject (four British jihadists looking to make an impact, in every sense of the word), it's a far (dare one say it) kinder and more compassionate work than one expects, more dramady than series of unpleasant punch lines. Not that this will sit easy with audiences, humanizing, rather than demonizing, the demons. But, as Bill Bailey pointed out, while it would be easy to paint them as one eyed monsters with lasers under their moustaches, Four Lions refreshingly exposes the fallibility that exists in all men and women.

Much of the credit goes to Morris’ impeccable cast, chiefly the one-two punch of Riz Ahmed and the Fonejacker himself Kayvan Novak, as family man Omar and impossibly dim Waj respectively. Barely competent recording their own fatwa complete with replica AK-47’s, the two actors are superb at putting a human face on those most reviled of religious extremists. Part of a ragtag Sheffield group that includes white convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and Faisal (Adeek Akhtar), who attaches explosives to crows, Omar is keen to make a name for himself as a soldier in the name of Islam, but finds his ideologies competing with that of his compatriots.

Both incisive look at the current British political crisis (Morris claims to have spent three years in research) and a farcical, genuinely hilarious comedy, Lions commendably finds humour naturally in situations and observations, akin to what Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant did in The Office. The easier way to go (and the one that would have garnered more publicity) would have been to string together a series of tasteless gags, but Morris (who clearly has matured himself) has a wider context in mind than that. As we move into the shockingly dramatic and moving final act, Four Lions has much to say about Britain’s identity in the modern age, even indirectly: it had its Sundance world premier on the day the UK’s threat level was raised to ‘severe’.

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