So here we have it, the long awaited Chris Morris directorial debut, Four Lions. For those of you familiar with his work (Brass Eye, Nathan Barley) the subject matter won’t surprise you. The film follows four British jihadi bombers in Doncaster as they plot a terror attack on London. There are actually five of them, but one makes a premature exit. Omah (Riz Ahmed) is the ringleader and brains of the outfit, Fessel (Adeel Akhtar), a bumbling and imbecilic wannabe-deputy, Waj (Kayvan Novak), Omah’s confused and deluded best friend, college boy Hassan (Arsher Ali), and Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the desperate Caucasian Muslim convert.
This is a controversial topic, with Channel 4 and the BBC refusing to fund the project in its initial phase. FilmFour and Warp Film eventually took the plunge and what we have as a result is a very funny film that tackles the hysterical nature of fear and the farcical exploits a four would-be terrorists. Written by Morris as well as Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (Peep Show, The Thick of It), the subject matter is in very capable, satirical hands as it explores the relationships, hopes and fears of its central characters in a very believable way. Morris is said to have done three years worth of research for this project, and it appears very thorough.
Four Lions has been compared in essence to Dad’s Army. This seems highly appropriate considering it portrays the aspiring martyrs as misguided amateurs rather than highly trained assassins, who grapple pathetically with the petty insecurities within their personal and (un)professional lives. The film also focuses on the incompetence of the police, who are more concerned about Omah’s harmless yet decidedly more religious brother, and seem completely unaware of the events underfoot.
The film is tight, the camerawork a mixture of The Thick of It fly-on-the-wall shots interspersed with beautifully composed cinematography, and the laughs are constant, yet there are flaws. There are some minor plot holes but enough to make you stop and question the narrative. It also isn’t clear whether or not the audience should be sympathising with the imprudent fools hoping to blow up London Marathon runners while disguised as ninja turtle, fancy dress wearing competitors. There are some genuine moments of anguish that sit unsettling alongside the comedy; for instance, Omah discussing his ascent to heaven with his nine year old son through a warped retelling of The Lion King.
Yet it is because of this audacity that the film is successful. The narrative may not be perfect and the characters are hard to define, but what do you expect from persistently confused and conflicting jihadis? The humour and absurdity of the film far outweighs any incomplete subplots or missed opportunities and it’s possibly the most biting and perhaps the only terrorist buddy-comedy you’re likely to see anytime soon.
Four Lions is out in UK cinemas from Friday 7 May