FOUR LIONS. Starring Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay, Adeel Akhtar, Benedict Cumberbatch. Directed by Chris Morris. Rated M (mature themes, coarse language and sexual references). 98 minutes.
Satire and parody. How far can you go?
Some cultures are good at satire and enjoy it. The British comedy tradition is in that vein. Americans are less prone as a whole to appreciate irony. Recent events have made satirists and cartoonists very wary about Islam. With Christianity it seems no holds barred.
Those may be some of the thoughts before seeing Four Lions if you have heard that it is a black comedy about suicide bombers and was made by Chris Morris who has had a strong, if chequered, career as a television satirist. Can you make a film on this topic these days – well, he has made it, so the question is should he have made it. Chaplin mocked Hitler and Mussolini in 1940 in The Great Dictator. Perhaps the lines were so easily drawn then, that it didn't matter if the Germans or Italians didn't like it. Now innocent victims of suicide bombers are in our midst and their relatives and friends grieve. Satire, mockery? The quickest answer is that if this does not sound like your sense of humour, then simply don't go. If you feel that one way of coping with the terrible consequences of fanatical beliefs is to show the ridiculous side of such behaviour and the less-than-heroism and even stupidity of those who believe that they are martyrs with instant entree into heaven, then here you are.
Four Lions is often cleverly written and, at times, makes for some laugh out loud comedy. Riz Ahmed (Road to Guantanomo) has decided that the best thing to do, given the terrible state of the world, is to commit an atrocity and blow bystanders up with himself. Two of his friends (and now disciples) are, to put it kindly, very slow-witted. This offers an occasion for mocking the taping of the video messages, for instance, let alone the inefficiency of the attempts by amateurs like these. The other member of the team is Barry, Anglo-Saxon, but a convert to terrorist Islam where he has made a place for himself that he could not do in real life. He is the critic and the contradictor.
They go to Pakistan for some training but are fairly hopeless and get sent home.
They are also essentially British and they fall back on different taken-for-granted little details of British life and customs, TV and music, food, ordinary jobs in the workplace, which shows the mixed motives that have not been sorted out.
Eventually, they set on a plan to sabotage the London Marathon. Most things that could go wrong do go wrong but in a deadly way – which is a means of questioning the religious and/or fanatical beliefs that would persuade men and women to offer themselves as suicide bombers. (For a very serious look at two bombers from Palestine going into Israel, Paradise Now is well worth seeing.)
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out August 19 2010