There are some topics that would be considered “off-limits” for comedy and one of them may be terrorism and terrorists. Chris Morris has never been one to shy away from this type of topic though and if it is a current affairs story which needs a light shining upon it, Morris is the man to do it effectively.
Morris has a great ability to balance the comedy and stark realism perfectly. The comedy is farcical and arguably a little too far on the funny side. The film focuses on four inept would-be terrorists who seem to hit every type of extreme character you could think of. Nigel Lindsay is the over-compensating White terrorist, Adeel Akhtar is a bumbling, clumsy terrorist (who gets one of the funniest moments of the movie), while Kayvan Novak plays the impressionable, simple-minded terrorist who is being dragged into the life without any real knowledge of why.
This is the bulk of where the comedy comes from. Some of it broad, be it a slapstick incident with a bomb and a pigeon or a farcical moment with a rocket launcher at a terrorist training camp. Some of it is more subtle and highlights the clever writing, like Novak’s character constantly checking that there will fried chicken in heaven or his unique way to fool CCTV cameras.
All the comedy is quickly snapped into place by the stark realism that these men are trying to plan an act which could kill hundreds of people and that is personified well in Riz Ahmed’s leader of the group. Ahmed plays the more level-headed, seemingly clever and switched-on Omar who is determined to carry out this act. Moments of comedy are quickly under-cut, especially when we see the “normal” life of Omar and you realise how authentic parts of this film could be.
All of this builds to a very real but also very sympathetic conclusion and the finale works well because Morris doesn’t paint these characters as villains but more as misguided. There is always comedy but also there is sympathy with what these men believe they should be doing. You are never too far away from the scary message this movie is delivering either too.
Overall, Four Lions manages to be both very funny but also very worrying as it highlights the stark reality of extremist living “normal, everyday life.” The comedy is written well, although sometimes is played too broad and silly. The performances make the film successful though, offering sympathy with people doing terrible things for misguided reasons.
Rating – 4
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