Directed by Chris Morris
Like in In the Loop, from Chris Morris's fellow Cool Britannia TV satirist Armando Iannucci, Four Lions's fly-on-the-wall shakycam purports a behind-the-scenes vantage for a hot political topic, revealing the hidden absurdities—sketch-comic incompetence and creative cussing, chiefly—driving the headlines. The difference here is that the invective is often subtitled Urdu ("dying the death of a thousand crocodiles stuffed so far up his arse..."), and the bumblers are would-be jihadis in Sheffield England.
We begin with the all-outtake martyr videos (with toy guns) filmed by sober Omar (Riz Ahmed), dumb Waj (Kayvan Novak), undersocialized Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) and frothing Barry (Nigel Lindsay), whose whiteness is never mentioned, who then proceed to very circular-firing-squad discussions about whether they should bomb "the internet" or a mosque (to hasten the revolution) before settling on the "fit slags" at the London Marathon (which necessitates strapping bombs under oversized mascot costumes). Morris has claimed exhaustive research behind the project, and indeed the dialogue—all bitterly petty, digressive debates and big-baby naïveté—is not so dissimilar from the wiretap or chat-room transcripts that make frequent, incredulous fodder for the Readings section of Harper's (and a rocket-launcher mishap at a mountain training camp is close to Carlos's staging of the PFLP's botched attempts at El Al jets in the 70s).
So, ok. Is suicide bombing funny? Well, yes, when it doesn't go for easy sitcom-level jokes (Waj is a bit of a laff-track simpleton, with his picture books and "confused face"). Far better are the shouting matches and gags amplifying familiar matters of culture, ideology and strategy (following a perfectly typecast multicultural panel meltdown, Barry recruits a fifth lion by demonstrating the difference between empty words and committed action: he drives his sedan into a wall. Very slowly). It doesn't take much to make blind belief (in anything) look silly.
And Morris takes his subjects' simultaneous grievances against, and assimilation into, British society, as credible givens. Omar plans his impending suicide attack even as he punches time at a security job with his pasty weekend-jogger partner; with his bold, supportive wife, he shoots squirt guns at his uptight, more devout brother. Meanwhile, the pseudo-doc camerawork is periodically replaced with surveillance-style footage, and the ill-prepared, overzealous efforts of anti-terror task forces are played for overfamiliar slapstick. You realize that you're not questioning any aspect of the premise, and then you wonder why, in that case, this is the first comedy you've seen on the subject. Four Lions both defuses the threat of terrorism and serves as a peace offering, by subjecting the great terror of our age to the same wry, skeptical gaze as any other human endeavor.
Opens November 5