Tuesday, 3 January 2012

"Four Lions". A Review Of The 2010 UK Film Now On A 2011 BLU RAY.

"…You Can't Do A Jihadi Video With A Box On Your Head!"

Five twenty-something lads from Sheffield wanting to be Afghan terrorists on British soil is not exactly an easy sell for a film - even for the most liberal minded of viewers. This is the kind of material that walks a thin line between black humour and the need to tell the truth - no matter how offensive or uncomfortable it may be.
But "Four Lions" 'so' works. Written and Directed by CHRIS MORRIS - his debut is an edgy risk-taking movie - and absolutely chockers full of laugh-out loud moments - and for all the right reasons...

It goes like this - the constantly babbling, but worldly na├»ve Waj is easily influenced by the disillusioned but far more radical Omar (Kayvan Novak and Riz Ahmed). Both 'brothers' want to do 'God's will' - which they believe is to become Mujahideen soldiers and start their own Islamic Jihad somewhere in affluent materialistic England. They essentially want to blow something up. Helping them away from Chicken McNuggets to a place of religious nirvana is Barry (a fantastically funny turn by a scene-stealing Nigel Lindsay). Barry rabbits on about ‘surveillance protocols’, eats SIM cards and once planted a ‘twin towers’ cake in a local mosque to incite the faithful. Rolling under garage doors like an SAS commando and sidling up to people's porches likes he's Jason Bourne - Barry is convinced that a passing mother and child is a cop and the American Feds are watching him on satellites in space. Barry is the worst and most boorish of the five. A converted white man and bearded radical, he is full of nice things to say about open-mindedness like "...we've got women talking back bruv! We've got people playing stringed instruments!"
Barry orders silver nitrate from Amazon and wants to "Boom! Fast track to final days! Proper war!"

Thrown into this pool of misguided idiots is the slow and permanently bewildered Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) - a hapless bomb-maker who stashes thousands of bottles of hair peroxide in his lock-up. Fassal wants to attach detonator devices to crows and fly them into Government buildings (hence the poster). Last but not least is Hassan (Arsher Ali) - an on-the-fence believer who wants to go 'proper' Afghan. Hassan talks the lingo about 'a new purpose in life' but Omar suspects that maybe he doesn't have the balls to actually do the dirty deed. None of them do. It's all a big game to the other four and Omar will need to make it 'real' this time. Plots are hatched in the bedsit above the men's shop Bolby Tailoring, rocket launchers go off backwards and Omar's microwave oven gets sacrificed in the name of the ‘cause'. And on the mayhem goes to the London Marathon of 2010 where they're dressed as chickens with something more than lean cuisine beneath their feathers. But of course it stops being funny very, very fast when the consequences and repercussions of what they're doing becomes all too real...and they get more than hurt...

How do you deal with extremism - humour is one weapon - Chaplin knew this. But part of this script's genius is to go deeper into the monster's psyche - to show us how 'religion' seriously screws with a person's moral compass - especially if that belief system has an 'our way is the only way' core mentality. There is also the lure of power - the power of a gun - how it gets you noticed - even respected. And of course that's amplified if you're prepared to have a bomb strapped to you and seek martyrdom.

The danger in all this is that despite the film's best intentions Muslims are tarred with a terrorist brush - but the writing is smart enough to address this - and even deal with racism among their own ranks by slagging both off with real skill. Subtle touches include Omar receiving an e-mail at work (he's a security guard) telling that his trip to the Pakistan is in 2 days time (spy talk for a training camp). He tells his boss he's attending a 'shotgun wedding' and if you look real close you'll see that the e-mail address is hilaryclinton055.

Housed in a fetching book package, the BLU RAY picture quality varies from very good on the indoor sequences (bedrooms, cafes and sheds) to crystal clear and superlative on the outdoors shots (Afghanistan hills, London streets). As the dialogue is all Sheffield in Northern England and comes at you fast and furious, the lone ENGLISH SUBTITLE will probably be more than handy for overseas viewers.
The extras include DELETED SCENES and 2 featurettes. The deleted scenes are short, but wickedly funny, while the 2 featurettes are unrelated to the film itself, but act as background to the project. First is a real-life documentary called "Lost Boys" which follows 4 Pakistani lads in a car as they drive around their hometown of Nelson in Lancashire. They talk of fights, racism and persecution - nothing to do every night. You can just see how they're ripe for recruitment. The 2nd is even stranger - an interview with Ahmad who is a white lad accused of Muslim extremism and arrested under the Terrorist Act. He shows paintings that express what he feels about Islam (deeply loves it). Neither feature makes judgements - but they do give you insights into why stuff happens...

To sum up - with our media and politicians locked into a sort of sickening and stifling political-correctness of late - material like "Four Lions" is refreshing to say the least - and even a bit brave.
And the fact that you're laughing so much for three quarters of the movie, but hurting with sadness at the end - is testament to its heart. It elevates "Four Lions" above clever froth into the realm of something that stays with you - and makes you think - and reassess...

I loved this film. And Film 4, Wild Bunch and Optimum Releasing - and all associated with "Four Lions" - are to be praised to the nines for it.

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