By Caitlyn Collins | May 2, 2011
Director: Christopher Morris
Writers: Christopher Morris, Simon Blackwell, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Adeel Akhtar, Craig Parkinson
“Most loud things are not bombs; they’re scooters backfiring.”
Stupidity mixes well with nothing. Think Enron. Think certain Major League Baseball players. Think bomb experts. You get the idea. Professionals need to know what the hell they are doing and why. This, and quite frankly any, standard of professionalism (or common sense) is sorely lacking amongst the group that comprises the Four Lions.
The United States has been in a state of heightened alertness against terrorism since I was a freshman at college. Words and phrases such as – “the war on terror”, “terrorism”, “Iraq”, “Muslim”, “jihad”, “terrorist”, “Afghanistan”, “Islam” – have entered everyday vernacular due to their ubiquitous presence in our media sources. We vacillate between a world of yellow and orange almost arbitrarily (although the Department of Homeland Security did just scrap the color-coded threat levels for a new two-tier system). We forget these words are not synonymous. They are words purposefully grouped together in order to create a constant sense of foreboding.
Omar, Faisal, Waj, Barry and Hassan comprise a group of wannabe English-Pakistani terrorists. Four Lions, directed and co-written by Chris Morris, opens through Barry’s video camera lens filming the lovable and clueless buffoon, Waj. The entire group is incognizant; their collective stupidity, rather than their terrorist plots, provides the majority of the cringe-worthy material.
Omar, the de facto leader of the group, lives in a modest home in an undisclosed English neighborhood with his wife and son. He works as a security guard and is at work when he is “called up” by his uncle in Pakistan to attend a two week “wedding” (i.e. training camp) there. Omar excitedly announces to the group that he’s been asked to come to Pakistan much to the dismay of Barry (also the group’s only Anglo-Saxon member) as he fancies himself the de jure leader. Barry believes he’s teaching Faisal, Waj, Hassan and Omar how to be the world’s greatest terrorists by such demonstrations as how to swallow one’s SIM card. Omar’s frustrations begin to rise as he berates Barry for his absurdity explaining cell phone SIM cards can still be traced even if they’ve been swallowed.
Waj and Omar make their way to Pakistan and instantly Omar’s uncle questions his invitation. He rifles through their packs where he finds Waj’s copy of a children’s book on Islam, showing that Waj and Omar are truly not fundamentalist Muslims, despite Omar’s idealistic notions. He suffers from simultaneously wanting to belong and a desire to rise above, a fatal combination. Out in the desert for training camp, Waj can’t even figure out the correct direction of Mecca. A deadly, yet comical, mishap finds the two friends back in their home country of England where Barry decides they’ve only returned because they have seriously “fucked up”.
The film, from this point, takes a darker turn as the group becomes much more serious about martyring themselves. They begin to cook explosives in a “secret” apartment that Barry keeps, using a storage room’s worth of peroxide Faisal has cleverly purchased from the neighborhood discount shop. (Don’t worry he’s wisely used different voices and covered his beard with his hands to keep the clerks unawares.) Omar’s brother pays a visit one day to tell him there is too much violence in his house, and urges Omar to thwart his plans. Omar’s brother and his group of friends are far more traditional Muslims. They attend weekly Qur’an study classes and are at one point seen playing footy in the park all dressed in traditional garb. This group of fundamentalists is not the terrorists we in the West almost expect them to be; they are the peaceful group. It’s Omar’s rag-tag team of miscreants that we have to watch out for. They have no real purpose. They can’t even decide what to bomb. They speak of Islam through phrases such as insh’allah (God willing), and a few members of the group know some traditional Urdu which makes them feel they are part of some greater terrorist force. But when asked the simple question, “Why are you doing this?” they cannot answer.
Morris focuses on individual group members as one by one they decide they are not ready to become martyrs. But their change of heart comes too late. Barry, who proves to be the only true radical in the group, decides to follow through with their plans whether or not everyone is willing.
Morris’ use of dark humor throughout Four Lions is superb. He pokes fun at Western culture’s perceived notions of terrorism, while at the same time implying that these guys should be taken at least somewhat seriously. They are plotting acts of terrorism after all. Their disillusionment, however, is the biggest issue. We’re beginning to see fed-up, disillusioned youth fight back all over the Middle East. Their purpose has been to effectively change their governments through a firm, but peaceful, revolution.