Reviewer: John Carpenter
Release date: 11/5/2010
97 mins/Rated R
When is the last time you laughed out loud during a movie? It probably wasn’t long ago. Scroll down the local theater listing and it is almost a guarantee to find several types of comedy. Some people are amused by the absurdity of the ‘Jackass 3D’ boys, while others may opt for a traditional comedy like ‘Due Date’. Those with an adventurous side should look a little longer. Hidden amongst the romantic comedies and Tyler Perry movies (do those count as comedies?) is a sharp film about four men attempting to achieve their lifelong dream of becoming suicide bombers. That’s right – a funny movie about terrorism. Don’t be so quick to judge. A little over a decade ago, some may recall a humorous holocaust movie that was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning three along the way. ‘Life Is Beautiful’ may be more lighthearted, but ‘Four Lions’ carries satire to a level that takes an offensive premise and delivers it in a wonderful way.
Everybody has a dream. While some aspire to become doctors, lawyers, or movie reviewers, Omar (Riz Ahmed) is a British jihadist who longs to become a soldier in the Muslim army. Along for the ride is his friend Waj (Kayvan Novak), who seems to be the terrorist version of Lenny Small from ‘Of Mice and Men’. They have teamed up with a white Islamic convert/extremist Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), a soft spoken man who teeters on his devotion to the cause. With an odd collection of personalities, Omar finds the road to terrorism is not as smooth as one may think. ‘Four Lions’ takes the men on a journey where trial and error onscreen translates into a delicious dark comedy for audiences.
While most may walk away from ‘Four Lions’ thinking about the king of political satire ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’, I immediately thought of ‘In the Loop’. The breakneck speed in which lines are delivered were reminiscent of Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) and his verbal assault of anyone who dared cross his path. It turns out that two of ‘Four Lions’ four writers (Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell) also helped pen ‘In the Loop’. It takes more than clever writing to deliver a controversial topic in such a humorous fashion. There has to be a connection with the characters. How far would ‘Man Bites Dog‘ have gotten if Ben were not a charismatic killer with a love for art? Chris Morris takes us into Omar’s home and gives the backstory on a man with a dream many would consider odd and highly offensive. There is no doubt that Barry is passionate about his love for all things Islamic, even if he is a bit crazy in delivery. Waj and Faisal may be as dumb as a doorknob, but charm with their childlike innocence. These unique and unbalanced personalities allow ‘Four Lions’ to present a sensitive subject under the guise of black comedy. The movie does not set out to offend. It takes an offensive subject and tells people that it is alright to laugh from time to time – even if the subject is dark.
Alamo Drafthouse Films has debuted with a great comedy that will undoubtedly set the tone for a wealth of future offbeat releases. Chris Morris has knocked one out of the park with his first film. ‘Four Lions’ will never cater to audiences who enjoy lowbrow humor or cookie cutter plots. It is a film designed for viewers with a sophisticated palette and thirst for originality. Since dialogue is delivered quickly and with thick accents (imagine the British version of Begbie (Robert Carlyle) from ‘Trainspotting’), I am hopeful the film will demand repeated viewings. Films like ‘Four Lions’ deserve to graduate from the Alamo Drafthouse to theaters across America. After seeing it in a theater, those with a region free player can pick up the DVD from Diabolik DVD for $22.99. That, my friends, will be the only time I promote terrorism.