Review: Four Lions (2010)

This movie review contains spoilers.

There are some movies that you are supposed to like… the sort that do well at Indie film festivals, or the ones that win Academy Awards. You never watch them, however. They sound too serious, you protest.

This is possibly the reason why many people haven’t watched Four Lions, a satirical black comedy about  suicide bombers. Instead of the usual preachy tripe, the director, Chris Morris, makes a lovely movie about five bumbling idiots with their hearts in the right place. (Or so they think.)

The film takes the West’s fear of terrorists, and the general stereotype that most ‘Pakis’ or Muslims are bombers, and flips it neatly. Set in the bleak weather of England, we meet four men (three from Pakistan and one crazy British Muslim-convert), and watch in delight as they stumble their way to martyrdom. (Well… they think they’re on their way to martyrdom.)

It’s more likely that Akhmed the puppet terrorist on Youtube will legitimately scare people more than our five protagonists collectively did.

The film’s main character is Omar (the perfectly cast Riz Ahmed), a jihadist with a wife and child who dreams of nothing else but to be chosen for a suicide mission. He’s portrayed as the ‘smart one’, though it’s probably better to think of him as the ‘smarter one’. We see that Omar is a man with common sense, a loving family (that accepts his desire to blow himself up with seeming coolness, joy and even pride) and a nice job. We’re faced with many questions about Omar – why is he so intent upon being a jihadist? Why does he want to be a suicide bomber, despite his happy family life?

Waj (Kayvan Novak), Omar’s right-hand (of sorts), is a huge stupid buffoon who sees a lot more than he is given credit for, and who manages to, surprisingly, steal your heart. Oh, he’s sweet and slow like a gorilla in a zoo, one can say. Of course he’s likeable. But towards the end of the movie, we see Waj, the loyal sidekick to Omar, the man who never questions his need to be a bomber, finally stop and think. His face is confused, his heart is at war with his mind… is what he is doing the right thing?

Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a white convert with suspiciously latent homosexual kinks,  is their loud, rash and extreme comrade with a talent for swallowing sim-cards. Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) is the gang’s fourth member – he spends his time hiding in cardboard boxes (to save himself from the video camera’s soul-sucking power, of course) and strapping bombs to crows.

And lastly, we meet Hassan (Arsher Ali) who is inducted into the group by Barry after he sees this rapper-terrorist wannabe pretending to be a suicide bomber, only with party poppers instead of explosives. Hassan is a lovely character. He is a reluctant part of the outfit – he goes along with the other men because he wants to prove that he really does care for his religion and his rights. Unfortunately, the boy cares a lot more about rapping, music and life… and doesn’t realize this until it’s too late.

They all take themselves too seriously, but each character has subtleties that make them more than one-dimensional characters in a spoof.

The real charm of this movie lies in the little things. Small nuances and little moments in the films manage to speak just as loudly as the other scenes. There are touching moments like the farewell between Omar and his wife (seriously, she’s too happy about her husband’s desire to die), or the reactions of the group when Faisal manages to blow himself (and an unfortunate sheep) up. Small jokes (that arise as a result of larger jokes) delight you and convince you that not only has the director scorned the traditional view of this whole situation, but has taken enough time to carefully craft each part of his film.

Though funny, and inherently enjoyable, the movie brings up a lot of questions in your mind. The men don’t explain why they want to be jihadists (on purpose, it seems – Morris slides away from the explanation), but you manage to piece together enough to ask whether the assumptions and negative expectations of prejudiced people are forcing certain factions to resort to extremist means? Are most budding ‘terrorists’ just as misguided? Does it matter what background they hail from?

Never once, however, does the film get too heavy to watch – so on no account should it be missed just because of its subject matter.

Ask yourself this: what other film is going to kill Osama bin Laden accidentally and reveal the death only in the end credits?

– Sroojana Iyer


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The voice of IIT Kharagpur Model United Nations.
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