Four Lions, produced and directed by Chris Morris, satirizes terrorists and the response to terrorism in modern Britain. Every character is flawed and every person is spoofed. No one is spared; police, politicians, local working stiffs, neighborhood religious fanatics, and the floozie next door are lampooned with great one-liners and riotous insults. This may sound insensitive, but the humor does not obscure hard issues. Rather, it makes them approachable: you’ll likely want to talk about this funny and unexpectedly sad film after seeing it.
The film’s strength is in offering a point of view that for most is simply unthinkable and unsympathetic: the perspective of four British Muslims who attempt jihad and plot suicide bombings. Morris’s incompetent and conflicted would-be martyrs are mostly likable oafs, the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, as if Harold and Kumar waged jihad under the tutelage of Twitter’s Al Qaeda. This sympathetic perspective is most disturbing as each meets his violent end, sometimes regretfully. The humor makes discussion possible.
I was deeply curious to see this film because I wondered whether the balance of humor and serious issues could be applied to this topic. I’m not convinced that such satire would work with more nuanced matters than suicide bombers or topics that are not thoroughly polarized. Polarization made Citizen Ruth work, but the difficulties presented by more subtle issues may be the reason that humor is rarely used to promote discussion. It’s not easy to be funny or enlightening, and to do so at the same time seems near impossible when talking about something, well, serious.
While Four Lions is a great discussion tool, it is less successful as entertainment. It’s funny, and the characters are always engaging, but the story wanders a bit because it’s both satire and buddy movie, and these elements do not entirely work together. The film does not have universal appeal. That said, the biggest downside is that you may never get rid of the earworm “Dancing in the Moonlight” after the movie ends.