Ahh, my first venture into a cinema for quite a while, and to see a comedy as well - what joy! As you may come to realise if you haven't gathered already, comedies and I don't mix very well. Mainly because they contain Will Ferrell, or Seth Rogen, or Ben Stiller/Adam Sandler (same person) and I HATE THEM ALL. I can't remember the last time I went to see an American comedy at the cinema and genuinely enjoyed myself. Luckily there's been some stellar British comedies of late, with a quote rate higher than the number of US dollars the above atrocities take at the Box Office. In The Loop was in my top three films of last year, with 'difficult, difficult, lemon difficult' and 'fuckity bye!' still flowing regularly through my vocab. Now from the same school of insightful, clever and absurdist comedy comes the daddy of them all - Chris Morris: the guy who brought Collaterlie Sisters ("only because you landed in somebody's stomach.") and Peter O'Hanraha-Hanrahan ("Peter next time you cross the road don't bother looking.") into my life. So I was really excited to see Four Lions.
Firstly can I just say how lovely it was to see people queuing up round the block to see this film at my local cinema. In a week when banal crap such as The Back Up Plan and Furry Vengeance swamps intelligent and original thought, we sat and waited as the film was delayed 20 minutes so every person could get in and fill up all the seats. Lovely.
The set up: four British Muslims and a white convert strive to become jihadist soldiers, and blow up anything - a mosque, Boots, the London Marathon - in order to achieve true martyrdom. The group is headed by family man Omar, with his dimwitted and impressionable brother Waj, bellowing ex-skinhead Barry, naive rapping Hassan ("I'm the Mujahideen and I'm making a scene") and clueless but yet somehow adorable Fessal, whose scene blowing up a crow is comic tragedy to definition.
Perhaps I shouldn't have In The Loop as my yardstick to compare Four Lions with, but it's difficult not to. Whilst they both present their subject matter in the most farcical and witty ways, it is their subject matter which divides them - there is a lot more at stake in Chris Morris' offering, and that's why you end up feeling a little cold at the end. I don't think Morris provokes as much as explores our conditioned feelings towards taboo subjects such as terrorism, so in turning something regarded as a touchy subject at the best of times into a big screen comedy needed to be handled very carefully indeed. Of course he had the humour on full blast all the way through, with throw-away lines becoming the words on everyone's lips as they left the cinema - "fuck mini babybels!" and the humour was effortless. But it was the central storyline of the film which needed the most work and consideration, and namely the message that the film would give out as the credits rolled - his intention isn't to glamorise or promote suicide bombers. And I think he achieved this, even though as viewers it meant we had to lose the people we'd be following for the last 90 minutes - their misguided ways still not deterring them from being strong, likeable characters. It added shock value too, as the laugh out loud comedy lured people into the false sense of security that there wasn't actually going to be any fatalities in this - oh they were wrong.
For me, I found the plot slightly meandering, and felt it relied a little too much on the themes and humour at times than being well structured and satisfying. But amongst all of that Chris Morris through in a few little gems of a scene, including most memorably Omar saying goodbye to his wife in coded fashion in front of a police officer - "I'll meet you on the top floor." It was incredibly stirring - all the way through I was confounded by her attitude towards her husband wanting to die as it's something I can't even begin to comprehend yet alone handle. I think the presence of the family made the ending all the more sour tasting.
The cast of unknowns were brilliant, and it was really nice to see a few familiar yet not so obvious faces in there as well such as Julia Davis, Kevin Eldon and Alex Macqueen (although not playing his characters from In The Loop or The Thick Of It!).
I'd thoroughly recommend Four Lions - whether you're a fan of Chris Morris (I wouldn't bother if you hate him!) or if you're just intrigued by the premise. Though flawed, it's unmissable for its quips and hand-over-the-mouth moments (yes I'm thinking about the Heimlich manoeuvre...) and a unique experience you won't have again in a hurry.