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 Chris Morris' Four Lions

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Chris Morris' Four Lions   Mon May 17, 2010 7:42 pm

Chris Morris started off in the late 1980's as a radio DJ for local BBC stations, and moved into comedy with On The Hour, which became The Day Today, which satirised news broadcasting and how it's reported. Morris took it further on Channel 4 with Brass Eye, which courted controversy for the 2001 Paedophile special, which was again mocking the news, and not it's title subject. But Morris has also dabbled in other aspects of comedy. He did a horror sketch show called Jam, which featured a plumber coming to fix a dead baby for an upbeat mother and a shoplifter with a gun in his chest. Plus, Morris teamed up with Charlie Brooker to do Nathan Barley, an offbeat sitcom which featured cast from The Mighty Boosh. Now, Chris Morris has gone one step further, and decided to take on the seemingly taboo subject of suicide bombers. He's also made it as his debut feature film. It's a subject that would never have been the stuff of mainstream cinema, and it's bound to court controversy with certain groups, but Four Lions offers a strangely sympathetic view on extremist Muslims, but it doesn't quite get under the skin, it merely scratches the surface, and maybe that's enough for territory like this.

The film follows a group of Muslims from Sheffield. There's Omar (Riz Ahmed) a sort of self appointed leader of this group, and his dim-witted brother Waz (Kayvan Novak), also in is convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay), who only seems to have joined to channel his anger at something, and then there's bomb expert Faisal (Adeel Akhtar). Omar and Waz go to Pakistan to train up to be soldiers against the imperialist West. While Omar and Waz are away, Barry meets new recruit Hassan (Arsher Ali) who seems to be a bit of a loose cannon. The training in Pakistan goes awry, and Omar and Waz come home shame faced, but still determined to go through with their plan. What's the plan?? Well, Barry wants to blow up a mosque just to provoke non-violent Muslims, while their "videos" to the western world are just a bunch of outtakes. Then, they settle upon a target, The London Marathon. But after all the trouble they've gone to, what hope do they have of succeeding??

This is not a film for everyone, and it's never going to be the stuff of mainstream cinema, but watching it, it doesn't come across as offensive, it doesn't try to stereotype Muslims, it's not attacking anyone. It's just about a group of idiots, trying to make their stamp on history from doing terrorist activities. Morris has been working on this story for ages, but the real hook for him was a real storyabout Muslim terrorists who tried to bomb a U.S. warship in Kuwait, they'd filled a little dinghy with explosives and it subsequently sank. There is a basis for comedy, proving not even real terrorists get it right. But, Morris gave the action a sense of realism, but having our group of hapless heroes plot all their activities in normal looking suburban homes. It feels so real, it's surprising you can find any laughs at all. Four Lions is more of a serious comedy or a hilarious drama, (delete as appropriate.)

It does have some good laughs though, including Omar's rant on all things western, ("Fuck Mini-Babybel!!"), and in Pakistan, the ill-fated attempt to bring down a U.S. Spyplane. Even so, you may find yourself wondering whether you should be laughing at stuff like this. But, there is some real emotion too, such as Omar's family, and telling his son that his actions can be compared to The Lion King. Plus, there's a real sense of camaraderie between the men in places, there's something touching about watching them sing along to Top Loader's Dancing In The Moonlight. It's done almost documentary style (shakey camera alert, though it's not so bad.) But, when it comes to films about terrorists, it's a sort of antidote to Hollywood made Iraq films like The Hurt Locker and Green Zone, taking it out of the desert and putting it in an unsuspecting environment.

The cast are all very good, the ringleader being Riz Ahmed as the exasperated Omar, who is struggling to keep this group from killing each other before their attack, but he shows a sensitive side with his family, even getting into a water pistol fight with his family. Kayvan Novak is best known to many as Fonejacker, but here, he adds heart to the film as Waz, who isn't sure whether he wants to go through with this terrible act, it would seem that he's only doing it because his brother is all for it, so it adds a sense of poignancy to the proceedings. Nigel Lindsay's Barry the convert is a nutcase, why this man decided to become a Muslim is a complete mystery, but it is a funny addition. As is Arsher Ali's hip-hop wannabe Hassan or Adeel Akhtar's clueless Faisal. Oh, and look out for cameos Jam regulars Kevin Eldon and Julia Davis, plus Benedict Cumberbatch as a police negotiator.





It's a funny film, but it's no Life of Brian, but at least it's something daring and bold. Morris is a true talent, and you can admire him for trying something like this, trashy tabloid journalists may call a 'media terrorist', but at least he's standing up to the things that make people afraid, peeling it away to find laughs. It's contained and to the point. It's subject might be controversial, but these are characters you end up rooting for, strange as it is, there's something likeable about them. It'll be interesting to see where Chris Morris goes after this, will he return to TV or make more films?? Who knows, but he shows a good sense of confidence with this one, that we may have a great director on our hands. It's not as experimental or as nasty as Jam or Nathan Barley, but it retains the down-to-earth rawness. This is a funny, emotional and daring film which sums up the stupidity and madness of suicide bombers, all filtered through farce, and it works.
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