The most prominent news story of recent weeks was the killing of Osama Bin Laden, who had amazingly evaded capture for nearly ten years since the 9/11 attacks. Although his death was a pivotal event, it also led to some disheartening responses from joyful Americans. I understand their sentiments, but the excitement looked more like a celebration after a Super Bowl victory than a response to a violent military operation.
This sports-team mentality is shared by the lead characters in Four Lions, Chris Morris’ comedy about aspiring suicide bombers in England. While developing their plans, these guys dance, sing, and get fired up by the thought of blowing up innocent British citizens. Obviously, they don’t think of the possible victims that way, but the “us against them” feeling of a sports rivalry feels eerily similar. These guys throw around terms like ‘jihad’ and ‘Mujahideen’ with the same tone baseball fans talk about a towering home run. The idea of becoming a martyr and going to Heaven brings the appeal, but their religious faith seems a bit shaky.
This five-man group is led by Omar (Riz Ahmed), the one participant who seems to understand the deadly stakes. He holds down an okay job and has a close relationship with his wife Sofia and their son, but the idea of dying for his beliefs rings true. The surprise is that Omar has open discussions with Sofia about his plans, which she clearly supports.
Omar is obviously the ring leader of the group, but keeping the reins on the rest of them is no picnic. His main adversary is the ridiculous Barry (Nigel Lindsay), who has outlandish ideas about training and delivering justice. Barry’s big plan is to blow up a mosque in hopes of inciting the “final jihad”. Omar’s method for poking holes in this theory leads to one of the film’s silliest moments. Let’s just say he uses Barry’s fist to show how that move would affect their cause.
The other major team member is the dim-witted Waj (Kayvan Novak), whose childlike demeanor makes a complex discussion of their goals impossible. His idea of Heaven matches the theme park Alton Towers, with its “rubber dinghy rapids” being the grand reward for the bombings. Unlike Omar, Waj doesn’t really understand what they’re doing until it’s too late. He’s involved in almost all the funniest moments, but there’s a sad undercurrent to his blind faith in his buddies. Near the end as the walls close in, he’s confused but finally understands the sad path they’ve chosen.
Waj’s fate offers a perfect example of the mine field walked by Morris while writing and directing this film. With the exception of Barry, he actually writes these bumbling terrorists as likable guys. We’re laughing at their foolish attempts and constant errors, but there’s a genuine sweetness to the group, disconcerting as that thought may be. Their youngest member is Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), who’s proud of delivering an absurd rap about Tupac to a conference on terrorism. Unfortunately, he also acted like he was going to detonate a suicide bomb, freaking out nearly everyone there. Similar to Waj, he seems to be enjoying the ride without thinking much about the end goal.
Four Lions is destined to be seen by too few because of its delicate subject matter, especially in our current climate. However, this dark comedy includes some of the funniest moments that I’ve seen in the past year. These guys have a lot more in common with the shoe bomber or underwear bomber than with Bin Laden. While delivering satire, Morris finds a way to show the reasons that many extremists (of any type) go, well, too far.
Returning to the sports-team analogy, crazed fans can lose sight of their actual goals if they become too attached to their teams’ success. Omar’s feelings about capitalist society might have some merit, but blowing up other people does nothing to further his cause. Morris simply presents how the characters think, which makes their actions both believable and absurd. I was actually moved by their fate in the end, even though it’s not a major surprise.
This DVD includes a significant amount of extra material, including nearly 20 minutes of deleted scenes and 12 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage. The most interesting features are two background vignettes shot during preparation for the movie. One is an interview with Mohammed Ali Ahmad, who has been falsely imprisoned for over a year with no official charges. His story reveals how some authorities have overreacted to the terrorist threat. The other entry follows some young guys who inspired the characters in the movie. (Morris was inspired from “a story he read about a group of jihadis who, rather than blowing up their intended target, had loaded a boat so full of explosives that it sank. And when he began his research, he discovered this wasn’t an isolated event.”, “Roaring into controversy?” by Amber Wilkinson, Eye for Film.co.uk)
Four Lions is not a deep investigation into the mind of a suicide bomber, but it gives us a glimpse at the types of people who might take this route. Disguised as an ostrich, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and other costumed characters as part of their final plan, they create a silly image of a violent enemy. They try really hard to succeed, but their futile and amateurish acts create more confusion than mayhem. Morris amazingly sidesteps numerous obstacles from the timely subject matter and delivers a successful dark comedy.