d. Christopher Morris / 2010 / UK / 101 mins
Viewed at: Screen 1 @ Cinema City (Norwich, UK)
As rational beings, we are compelled to turn upon those things which we fear the most, and often the best way we know of doing that is to laugh, to turn our fears into objects of parody, of satire, of ridicule. Confronting taboos is a common way of dealing with fear, but confronting taboos with comedy can become almost a taboo in itself.
< CAUTION: Spoilers Ahead! >
Let’s get a couple of things straight about Four Lions: it is not Chris Morris’ ‘best’ work ever, nor is it his funniest. That said, it is his most ‘complete’ work and, in many ways, his most profound. It is also a gutsy film (in more ways than one), despite being weighed down heavily by its subject matter. Unlike Morris’ previous absurdist approach to tacking the hysteria over paedophilia (a similarly vociferous cause célèbre of the tabloid press in recent years), Four Lions sees Morris sacrifice some of that unquenchable hilarity in order to find a much more subtle and thought provoking angle.
Still, critics on all sides of the debate over Four Lions – from victim support groups who abhor its ‘humanization’ of terrorists and its making light of terrorist atrocity, right through to the rabid Morris fanboys who criticize it for simply not being ‘funny’ enough – are all, to a greater or lesser extent, missing the point. If we are to understand terrorism, we must first understand the terrorists, and Morris entered this project only after he had undertaken a rather hefty amount of research. At the other end of the spectrum, the concept that you cannot be a ‘serious’ filmmaker and use comedy as a vehicle is patently ludicrous, as swathes of satirical tradition can no doubt testify.
Indeed, one of the most intriguing things about Morris is his knack for infusing fierce strains of intelligence and wit into the otherwise translucent forms of absurdist comedy. Morris’ real strength lies in his ability to meld biting satire and goofy comedy in a form that seems to appeal equally to ‘low-brow’ pop-culturites and ‘high-brow’ sophisticates. And yet there still seems to be, for many critics (particularly the many who vacillate between these two points), a fundamental misunderstanding of Morris’ intentions with Four Lions.
One of the greatest triumphs of Morris and Co. is their ability to stick to their conventions right up to the final frame, refusing to cheapen the film’s ending just as the central characters begin questioning theirs. In less conscientious hands, Four Lions could easily have descended into a woeful tale of last-minute redemption, with Riz Ahmed’s ringleader character seeing the error his ways and handing himself over to police. Instead, Morris does the honourable thing by forcing his creation to do exactly the opposite.
It might not be as laugh-a-minute as much of Morris’ television work, but Four Lions is brilliantly brave, uncompromising stuff. And highly recommended.