I recommend the 2010 film Four Lions. It was directed by the reclusive comedy genius Chris Morris, who wrote it with Peep Show writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain.
This is another post in my ‘I always knew you would like this…’ series. Back in 2010, 16 year old me had a crack at articulating the brilliance of this perfectly pitched satire of jihadi terrorists. I wonder how I did?
Here’s an annotated version of that juvenile blog:
“Four Lions had me roaring with laughter”
Pun = fun.
“I was fascinated by Four Lions as I was very curious as to how a comedy film could tackle the subject of jihadi terrorists without being appallingly distasteful and distinctly unfunny. Four Lions completely delivered on this, making use of ink black comedy which almost makes you feel guilty for being amused by what are, when taken out of context, horrific and distressing events. I never thought that I would find myself laughing at a young Muslim man detonating a suicide vest in London with the intention of killing innocent people, yet there I was, chuckling away as I watched the farcical storyline unfold. The fact that director Chris Morris managed to create humour from this taboo and highly sensitive subject proves he is truly a master of comedy.”
The delivery may be a little clunky, but I agree with the sentiments. Four Lions still makes me laugh an awful lot, and the subjects it addresses are still tricky topics for comedy. It remains very relevant and, as far as I know, no one has made a film anywhere near as bold or successful in its ability to find humour in jihad.
“The film follows the fortunes of five radicalised Muslim men as they plan a devastating attack on London. The film takes a while to build pace but once it does you are hit with laugh after laugh after laugh as characters rap a jihadi video, have an unfortunate run in with the Heimlich manoeuvre and explain that jihad is like a fast track pass to go on the rubber dinghy rapids at Alton Towers. You are drawn into the story of the protagonist Omar and his emotional journey through the film which adds a human element to the story as well as weird sense of empathy whilst you’re also laughing at the bungling, Laurel and Hardy esque attempts at terrorism. The humour employs shock tactics which make you apprehensively pause before roaring with laughter at the increasingly deadly series of cock ups, it reminds me of when you watch someone fall over and wait a minute before laughing at them. Maybe that’s just me.”
I’m understating the empathy element here – that is the key part of Four Lions. They aren’t simply ‘terrorists’, they’re people, people who you care about. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the emotional core of the film. The scene where he uses the Lion King as a parable to explain jihad to his son is so tender – and then there are the moments where it’s heart breakingly matter of fact: “you’ll be in heaven before your head hits the ceiling.”
It’s interesting that I mention Laurel and Hardy, because the four jihadists are almost archetypal comedy characters. Omar is the straight man whose exasperation you feel. Waj (Kayvan Novak) is the doofus, the Rodney Trotter of extremism, he’s lovably stupid and his naivety is a cause for laughter and sympathy. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is the hot head, a white man with a chip on his shoulder. Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) well meaning, but very daft. Like all successful comedy characters, no matter how evil or how stupid they are, you still care about them.
Again, clunky as this is, I agree. The set-piece moments contain an incredible cognitive-dissonance of horror and hilarity.
“A very dark yet funny film with several laugh out loud moments and a disturbing thread of realism running through it. A definite sign that comedy knows no bounds and leaves you wondering: what will Morris tackle next?”
Several laugh out loud moments? What am I talking about? It features far more than that, and seems to get funnier with each re-watch. I have grown to appreciate the dialogue a lot more. Its fast paced serious surrealism proves what a well-matched team Morris, Bain and Armstrong make. The cameo from a pre-Sherlock Cumberbatch is a great moment. The actor Kevin Eldon continues his trend of appearing in most funny things ever, and makes a very amusing police sniper. I’m itching to spill the beans about the big moments that I’ve alluded to above, but I will restrain myself. In return, you really must watch the film.
Good question me. What did Chris Morris do next? He’s directed some episodes of Veep, replaced Armando Ianucci as the interrogator in Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, and he’s appeared in Richard Ayoade’s The Double. As he has a reputation for being a workaholic, it’s not beyond belief to wonder whether a big Chris Morris project may be unveiled in the next year or so. Perhaps we’ll finally hear that sketch he teased us with this time last year?