Four Lions: Sensitive Tragi-Comic Perfection only the Brits Could Pull Off

I don't often do film reviews, but I thought this one deserved an exception. The film is Four Lions, by British director Christopher Morris. SPOILER ALERT! The film caused quite a stir when it came out because it seemed to be tempting fate: it makes fun of terrorists. The film would indeed be provocative and perhaps distasteful if that were the only point. The film intertwines tragedy and comedy to make fun of much more than terrorists. The end result is funny-in-a-sad-way.

The terrorists portrayed in the film are complete idiots. Alas, so is just about everyone else in the film, especially the police, who proclaim quite inexplicably at one point that they had "shot the right guy," but that the "wrong guy then exploded." The part I enjoyed best though was, I would say, the central message of the film: each side's actions essentially amounted to an own-goal. The terrorists end up killing very few non-Muslims, killing many more Muslims in the process, including, by accident, Osama bin Laden himself! They also, comically, kill a sheep and a crow. At the same time, the police end up killing only innocent civilians. When they finally catch some guys for questioning, they take in the very man who tried to convince the men who were planning a terror attack not to do it. This may be because the man the police arrest and take to a location "in Britain but technically in Egypt," is a very devout Muslim and wears traditional dress, making himself a target. He had always preached peace and frowned upon the violence planned by his compatriot, trying to get him to come to prayer meetings and forget his violent mission.

The film goes a long way towards underscoring the senselessness of violence (not least by having a cast of terrorist characters who mostly had no idea what it meant to blow themselves up), but also highlights the difficulties inherent in stopping it along the way, either by reason (the peace-loving Muslim who tries to stop the terror group with words) or by force (the bumbling police). At base it is a sad story with extremely comedic juxtapositions (listening to silly pop songs while driving to a suicide mission or wearing ridiculous-looking costumes to smuggle bombs into a marathon). Watch it, but don't expect to laugh all too hard, the seriousness of the subject has not been forgotten by anyone, especially not by Christopher Morris.


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