Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Man on Film: Four Lions

Best bumbling terrorist comedy of the year.

Now that I got that out of the way, Four Lions is the feature-length debut of Christopher Morris.  This doesn't mean much to most Americans, but it should.  Some may know of Christopher Morris from his stint in the first season/series of The I.T. Crowd, where he played Denholm Reynholm.  More importantly, with Armando Iannucci (whose own feature-length debut, In the Loop, got quite a bit of recognition last year), Morris co-created the seminal British news satire series The Day Today, which was a reinvention of their radio program[me] On the Hour.  If you are not familiar with either of these productions, perhaps the character Alan Partridge will mean something to you, as Steve Coogan first played him there.

So if it wasn't for Christopher Morris, we'd have never gotten to enjoy this:

Having laid that bit of foundation, Morris's feature-length debut is largely a success.  While much more character-driven than plot-driven, Four Lions consists of a band of four then five then four Islamo-British suicide bombers who bumble their way through a bomb plot.  Not to be outdone, British law enforcement does their fair share of mucking things up, ranging from raiding the wrong home to a sniper erroneously shooting a runner in a Wookie costume when instructed to shoot a runner in a bear costume.

But this comedy is mostly about the terrorists.  Their idiocy is supremely entertaining.  Barry, played by Nigel Lindsay, is the paranoid conspiracy theorist white Jihadist who fancies himself a great thinker but whose brilliant idea it is to bomb a mosque to radicalize the moderate muslims.  Adeel Akhtar plays Fessal, the imbecile extremist who is training crows to fly bombs through windows, who has to keep his dad from eating the newspaper, and who disguises his voice when buying dozens of bottles of bleach at the same neighborhood store despite not wearing a disguise.  Hassan (Asher Ali) seems more concerned with how he'd fit in with characters from Tupac songs than the bomb plot and ends up jamming to King Harvest's "Dancing in the Moonlight" with Julia Davis when he is supposed to be keeping their safe house secure.  Kayvan Novak's deliciously dim turn as Omar's best friend, Waj, sees him taking pictures of himself on his cellphone to see the expression on his face and uses a comically small toy AK-47 in one of their terrorist videos. 

And then there's Omar.  The star.  The ringleader.  Perhaps the most mentally together of the bunch.  Yes, this guy (played brilliantly by Riz Ahmed) puts his son to bed with tales of a Jihad-adapted Lion King allegory.  He has to try to talk sense into his mujahideen when they are deadset on bombing the mosque as per Barry's plan.  And despite his being the brains in the group, he commits arguably the biggest gaffe.  As approached by a drone when left alone at a mujahideen training camp in Pakistan, he takes up a rocket launcher and shoots it in the wrong direction with disastrous results.

Now what is weird, is that despite their reprehensible cause, their gross stupidity actually causes you to pity them a bit.  While they may spew anti-Semitic sentiments here and there, their actual grasp on their cause is shockingly uninformed.  They are so poorly informed and their ability to process information with any logical thought is so challenged that you'd think they got their news from--oh, you know where I'm going with this. Their hatred of heretics is so uninformed and their goal of martyrdom to go to a heaven that is basically like an amusement park is so childishly innocent that it is hard to stir up much anger towards them.  Perhaps this is because their ineptness throughout leaves you so sure that they couldn't really do much harm that their holy war can't seem anything more than quaint.

Regardless, the knife definitely cuts both ways in this film, and the British government is held in equally low esteem in this biting, dark satire.  While ironically plotless, this film about a terrorist plot works pretty damn well.

Post Script: 

Dear Powers that Be, 

I do not need to be watch listed.  This is a film review.  The only way I need to be watch listed is if it is for a blog that has devoted an absurd amount of time to the subject of Kim Richards and once derived an unseemly amount of its traffic from people searching for 'soapy cock shots' on Google.  And I suppose there was that short series about my disdain for Battlestar Galactica.  if I need to be watch listed for that, then go ahead I suppose, but BSG was bullshit.


ATSchwitters said...

I like how you snuck another Kim Richards reference in there in a shameless grab for google hits. Nice.

Old Man Duggan said...

Yeah, buddy.

Big Hatt said...

Disdain for BSG? Fuck you, Duggan.

On the plus side, this review has provided the necessary impetus for me to want to go see Four Lions. It was recommended to me twice in the same day. I'd be a fool to turn away from that.

Old Man Duggan said...

Nice, Big Hatt. My BSG hatred is not popular in the nerd-riddled blogosphere. Did you get a chance to read any of the "Reasons I Dislike BSG" series? That should incite your wrath.

Are you familiar with Morris's other stuff?

Big Hatt said...

Had never heard of Morris until this (although obviously I know about Alan Partridge). I'm not quite the student of the game you are. I'm just a guy who gets high and sees movies.

Archived those "why I dislike BSG" articles. A few quick reactions:

1) I never liked "frak". I only have 2 friends who like BSG, but rest assured we were in unanimous agreement that word was lame. Eventually you just learn to ignore it.

2) Helfer wasn't great, but you really can't get too bent out of shape about one bad actor on a show on the Scifi channel. I mean, even The Wire had some terrible actors (Daniels!!!), and its easily the best drama of all time. Also I thought Helfer's wooden visage helped underscore the fact that she was, you know, a robot. Her limitations were avoided, put it that way.

3) The "virgin" angle- There was far too much going on in this show to suggest its ratings were due mainly to virgins looking for nerd-sex. It was critically acclaimed for a reason (several, actually). I mean, the virgins in question presumably all had the internet and could look up actual naked women any time they want.

I happen to think BSG is the shit, but I can understand someone who isn't a nerd not liking it. I recommended it to very few of my friends, for instance. I'm by far the nerdiest guy in my crew, so at this point I've learned to keep these vices behind closed doors. I'm kinda surprised you didn't like it though. I mean, you like sabermetrics, right? I'd've thought that was a pretty strong indicator.

Old Man Duggan said...

I kind of lost my momentum on those articles. I intended to write more as I suffered through it while TSLF was watching it. I actually like a fair amount of sci-fi, so it's not like I don't have nerdish leanings. I loved Firefly. I've been to multiple ST: TNG movies in the theater. If you're extending things to the simply nerdy realm, I saw every ep of the Buffy and Angel runs as well.

BSG struck me as being particularly awful. I know I focused on Helfer's acting being abysmal, but it was a feeling I got when watching almost the entire cast. In my eyes, the only one worth a damn acting-wise in the whole cast was EJO. Apollo. Sackhoff. Tighe (sp?). Baltar. Fake football player guy. Asian chick. Mechanic dude. All bad.

The screenwriting was almost always extremely heavy handed. Also, while I didn't see the finale, when I heard where it ended up, I laughed at my BSG-defending friend, who made a complete 180-degree turn on his feelings about the show.

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