Big Jim Review: Four Lions

Jim here,

Full blown satire is one of the hardest things in the world to pull off. Go too far and you run the risk of losing your audience. Don't go far enough and you end up weak and irrelevant. Put in too much drama and you come off forced and preachy, not enough and there isn't any resonance or reason to care.

This is what makes films like "Dr. Strangelove," "The Life of Brian," and "Airplane" work. Yes, they pile on the funny, but in doing so they still create engaging and compelling characters that invest you in the proceedings. Even in tackling rather touchy subject matter, nuclear war in the midst of the heated cold war, religion, faith, and martyrdom, or even a pending disaster threatening the lives of hundreds of innocent people aren't, on the surface, fertile ground for comedy. Yet, they are handled in such a way as to make them not only great comedies, but great films.

With this in mind I sat down for an advanced screening of "Four Lions," a heavy satire about a group of terrorist wannabes planning an attack in London. To say this film had an uphill battle is a MASSIVE understatement.


Thing is, this movie pulls it off. By playing the absurdity of the characters as a believable reality the end product is completely hilarious and fairly powerful at the same time. I am by no means putting this on the same level as "Strangelove," but it is as close as any filmmaker today will have the stones to make.

This film is a hard sell because it is quite literally impossible to describe t in any way that makes it sound even remotely funny. It just isn't.

It begins with a split story, one focusing on Omar (the closest to a real moral center in the film, a conflicted man who seems to believe but still struggles with what he thinks has to be done) and Waj (a very sweet and very dim guy who seems to be along for the friendship more than anything else) as they go to Pakistan to be trained. Their horrible ineptitude keeps them from being accepted until an accident forces them to return to England.

While they are off training, a local group, Hassan (young and stupid, but not as harmless as Waj, who is in way over his head), Fessal (a bit more of a true believer who is trying to train crows to carry bombs as suicide bombers, this does lead to some very funny stuff), and Barry (a British convert who shows what happens when a very angry, not terribly bright person locks on to an ethos) begin to plan an attack.

When Waj and Omar return they join the group in their plan to bomb... something. The location seems secondary, all that's important is that they want to bomb SOMETHING. Barry, who believes that, since, "we have women talking back, people playing stringed instruments. It's the end of days!" wants to bomb a mosque to radicalize the moderates to rise up against the west, Omar insists on a different locale.

What separates this film from the insipid crap passed off as satire these days is that the characters do not think they, or any of the situations they find themselves in, are absurd, no matter how much so they might be. There is no self consciousness or playing to the camera. There is nothing worse than a character who realizes they are funny, and these characters do no, even though they are hilariously so.

Satire is best when it pulls no punches, and these filmmakers keep that in mind throughout. The constant subversion of expectations keeps the humor going strong, even though, were you to think about any of it, you probably would be too horrified to laugh.

It does begin to feel a little long near the end because, as it moves towards what seems to be an inevitable ending, the filmmakers write a heavy narrative check that you don't really want to see cashed. But no matter how heavy it gets they are able to return to the base of comedy, as any truly good farce will. But also the pace is due to how the film balances the farcical comedy and the real world repercussions of terrorist activities. This is a difficult balance, but it is struck quite well here.

This is by no means a film for the overly sensitive. If the idea of a comedy about terrorists planning an attack seems off putting to you, then in all honesty this might not be the film for you. But if you approach it as something that points out the absurdity in something terrifying then there isn't any reason you won't fully enjoy this. It is a rare movie that can completely bum you out, then make you laugh, only to bum you out a moment later and bring you back to laughter, but "Four Lions" pulls that off.

Check it out, enjoy it. Remember, nothing is offensive if it's funny.


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