Friday, 22 March 2013

Film Review | Four Lions (2010)

At the UK premiere of Four Lions, writer and director Chris Morris stated that not only did he not consider the subject matter of his film controversial, but also that attempting to stir up controversy is "one of the most boring things you can do". Whilst I'm fairly certain that there will be at least some people who would indeed consider a comedy film about a homegrown Islamic terrorist unit to be controversial, I'm inclined to believe Morris completely in his second sentiment. Four Lions is one of the most finely crafted comedy films of the 21st Century, and at no point does it provoke anything other than genuine humour, thought and emotion.

It's the expert writing and direction of Morris which ensures that Four Lions never comes close to descending into cheap shots or ignorant parody. The story, whilst regularly farcical and blackly comic, also feels remarkably authentic and (scarily) really quite plausible in a number of ways. Morris creates real characters who believe in something, whilst at the same time highlighting the fact that what many people think they know about religious extremists - largely thanks to the media - is in fact the distorted caricature.

Four Lions' assembled cast provides another major strength. Much has been made of Kayvan Novak's imbecilic Waj and Nigel Lindsay's extremist British Islamic convert Barry, and with good reason: both Novak and Lindsay deliver strong and memorable performances, although both spend more time during the first two acts of the film as clear-cut comedy characters. But for me, the standout performance here comes from Riz Ahmed as Omar, the unit's leader. Ahmed's performance takes in everything from slapstick to pathos, with some of the scenes showing Omar's relationship with his wife and son delivering some of the film's most poignant and emotional moments.

Structurally, the film feels a little hectic and unfocused, especially during the opening and middle acts where it's never quite certain what direction the story is going in. Morris almost certainly does this to reflect the disorganisation and confusion of the main characters, but it still means that Four Lions sometimes feels like a string of very well written and performed sketches involving the same characters that don't necessarily form a definite plot. It's in the film's final act where Morris tightens the film as a whole, delivering a focused and flawless finale which is equal parts comedy and tragedy.

Any flaws are minor, however, and vastly outweighed by the film's successes. Morris has refined his craft throughout his acclaimed career in television meaning that Four Lions, his feature directorial debut, largely feels like the work of a seasoned veteran of the big screen. Morris also deserves serious praise for successfully crafting an original spin on what are well-trodden and much-loved comedy archetypes, and for his sheer audacity and unapologetic film-making. In less skilled hands, this could have been a complete train wreck of monumental proportion; under Morris' proficient control, Four Lions stands firm as one of the most successful and important British comedies ever made.


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