Look, no one needs reminding the events which will transpire this coming Friday. It’s a moment that will even still feel darkly surreal, and the day will just seethe bubbling anger. From where we stand currently, we have no choice but to believe that the next four years will be scary. What drastic changes to society will occur? We have no idea, and just maybe – emphasize that word as strongly as you wish – there won’t be any. Nevertheless, it’s the thought of the possibility that’s terrifying.
One of the reasons – just one, mind you – why that fear is justified is because of the rhetoric that has floated in this country, and across Europe partially thanks to Brexit, surrounding Muslim people. The fear mongering and hate speech has been around for a while, no doubt, but its vitriolic, poisonous ire became fully amplified when movements and parties like the alt-right and UKIP successfully began making waves they shouldn’t have. Hell, Labour Party MP Jo Cox was murdered in cold blood by a man who cried, “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” upon his arrest. For those of you with a dark sense of humor, let Chris Morris’s Four Lions be your much needed antidote.
As well as being Morris’s feature debut, Four Lions is a black comedy satire depicting a group of Britain-born Islamic terrorists bumble their way through the planning and preparation of their own Jihadist attack. There’s Omar (Riz Ahmed), the undisputed leader of sanity in this cell; Waj (Kayvan Novak), a thick-skulled follower; Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a white Islam convert with a quick temper; and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), a man whose inept foolery even surpasses Waj’s. Very quickly, you can probably tell the point of the film is to highlight the idiocy of fundamentalist groups and ways of thinking, but concept alone is not enough. Fortunately, Four Lions hits all of its targets, for lack of a much better phrase.
In the past, Morris has collaborated with fellow satirist Armando Iannucci and even has directed a few episodes of Iannucci’s Veep, so any fan of The Thick of It or In the Loop will find themselves at homes with Four Lions. First of all, the cinematography is done in the same first person, mockumentary style of shaky cameras and short, rapid-fire close-ups that heighten the humor without the need of cheesy fourth-wall breaking. Secondly, the characters are physical manifestations of systemic flaws. Finally, they’re always insulting of one another – at least, those smart enough to improv a vicious one-liner – and as a whole, the dialogue is characterized by whip-smart wit and politically conscious absurdity. Admittedly, the latter two are markers of satire in general, but you get the idea.
It’s entertaining as hell if you have the taste for it, but admittedly there is a formula to be discerned. Though Morris can’t quite put his own stamp on the material, it shouldn’t take away from his directorial skill when utilizing comedic tension and abrupt breaks in the action, and it certainly should not do the same for the performers bringing these protagonists to life. Like many an Iannucci character, their farcical follies possess the charm of modernized slapstick, and they supply the heart to material that outwardly rejects any form of sentimentality. Lindsay and Ahmed are the film’s standouts in their respective roles and are often the lifeblood of the comedy in conflict.
And though perhaps the sensitivity with which Morris co-wrote this film and went about directing it might seem superfluous information at this point, it is worth mentioning. In spite of however incendiary and brash the material projects itself, Morris and Co. are equally successful in emphasizing the banality underlying the proceedings, contributing a strangely, if perhaps awkwardly sympathetic tone amidst the bevy of criticisms laid against fundamentalist faith, traditionalism and mass hysteria in popular media regarding Muslim folk. The ending, in particular, displays a nuanced sadness that’s discomforting, but is in no way shoehorned into the screenplay.
Without meaning to sound too sanctimonious, no one film or piece of art is going to make everything better. And furthermore, on its own, not even a collection of similarly minded works of art will magically shift attitudes, at least not overnight. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to believe anything will get better when fake news sources can so easily sway public opinion one way or the other, and when the President-elect can get away with referring to a legitimate news source like CNN as fake news.
What we need is the harmonization of these artworks and the voices of supporters not involved with their creation really rallying behind them, creating a ripple effect that sees more politically and socially conscious media break into the mainstream and bust the myth that any subject matter is too controversial. Such attitudes of the latter thought nearly ensured this film never saw the light of day, and this is where top film executives who are supportive of these films and wanting to make their case known need to step up. It’s high time rationality and responsible rhetoric regained its rightful place on the throne of dignity.
P.S. – For those of you who voted ‘Leave,’ for Donald Trump or currently express opinions similar to both camps and just so happened to stumble upon this article: you can stop reading now. Thanks for the click.