This is No Child's Play
Four Lions may be a black comedy, but the subject matter is anything but, dealing with the real threat of self radicalized men who take it upon themselves to wage what they deem is a holy war against the infidels of their religion, capitalism and Western ideals, about the men who are frighteningly misguided in their beliefs which we may find absurd, but they holding it very dearly to their hearts, nevermind if it's actually the blind leading the blind.
Co-written and directed by Christopher Morris, the film follows the journey of a few friends and acquaintances brought together by Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a self-styled firebrand convert and Omar (Riz Ahmed) the unofficial leader who assemble like minded radicals to take on what they felt is a path of righteousness and a fast track to heaven, even if for narrative purposes his recruitment tactics is questionably risky at best (not to mention funny, I did say it was a comedy). It's almost like a satire on the 101 basics on how one transforms from all talk to all action, going on trips to Pakistan to meet up with mujahedins or holy warriors in order to learn the ropes in becoming soldiers and tested in battle, to the assembling of explosives, deciding on a target and then executing it, complete with the quintessential video recordings to explain the rationale behind the deeds.
It parodies many of what you've seen and read in the news, and while you may dismiss it as making light of dead serious situations, here's where its brilliance emerged. From within the comedy that come fast and furious that you find yourself inevitably laughing at the clueless wannabes, there are moments of poignancy especially when you realize that the wannabes have gone way past the point of no return, and with the wheels of destruction set in motion, there's no turning back really. In a way it reflects upon how detection of the clandestine activities may sometimes be stranger than fiction, but it is usually missed opportunities, especially with the countless of screw ups that go undetected, that serve as the real threat to society with prejudices and discrimination at play.
Ultimately those who truly suffer are friends and especially family, and the story does not mince that impact even though most are centered around the closing credits in an epilogue. Family isn't far behind especially when time got devoted to focus on the ringleader's, that here's a man willing to sacrifice what's worldly for a calling so perceived higher than self and for the greater good. Not only those on the other side of the law get put in a spotlight, but how the authorities and politicians behave got their fair share of critique, though in a fashion of less being more.
Four Lions adopted the shaky cam throughout which in a way tried to mirror a documentary, and to some this may be tiring to watch since the camera bounces around and doesn't stay still for the most parts. This is perhaps the only aspect of the film that I disliked, though you'll soon find yourself tickled if you pay close attention to the dialogue which were thoroughly filled with wickedly funny lines. The trailer may have accidentally revealed the funnier, slapstick aspects of the film, but its wit was firmly found in the spoken words.
Riz Ahmed is as charismatic a ringleader as he can be, and Kayvan Novak plays Waj his less than intelligent friend and blind follower with a sense of sensitivity that will tug at your heart when Omar realizes what he had done, and you'll definitely feel something for the Waj character when you ponder over how many real world counterparts who exist in the real world, being all too trusting with their leaders in being lambs laid out for slaughter, conned with an ideal of a promise. Adeel Akhtar's Faisal the bomb maker will nearly always make you laugh at his naivety and sheer stupidity, being one of the characters that draw the most laughs besides Waj.
It's easy to lapse into stereotypes and branding a message of hate, but Four Lions is nothing of that sort. What it does is to make one sit up and take notice of the troubles that are plaguing our modern day society, where there are those who do not feel inclusive, and decide to take it upon themselves to address their grievances through the use of violence. It's seriousness hidden under the guise of comedy, and I dare say you'll get more out of this film than from whatever else that's screening this week. Highly recommended!