Morris Minor

[Film] Four Lions

As divisive a character as always, Chris Morris’ feature film debut has drawn uncritical spaffing from the fanboys and contrarian sneering in equal measure. Predictably, I’m sat somewhere on the fence, with my laptop.

The film centres on the actions of a group of wannabe suicide bombers in Sheffield. Omar is the ringleader, the brightest of the bunch, with a loving wife and son. Waj is his vacant, but loyal best friend. Faisal is harmless, seemingly borderline mentally challenged and Barry is a white, militant convert, the most self-righteous of the lot. With no plan yet in place, other than a few hastily filmed YouTube videos, Omar and Waj head off to a training camp in Pakistan. As with all their other endeavours, this is an unmitigated failure, and they soon return home. In the meantime Barry has recruited a fifth Lion, Hassan, impressed more by his access to a van than any bomb-making credentials.

All five are depicted as bumbling, inept and possessed with very little of the insurgent fervour one might imagine. Most of their time is spent having petty arguments about the minutiae of everyday terrorism, and how best to exact revenge on western society. These plans variously involve trained exploding crows, using an ‘IRA voice’ to buy bleach, and Barry’s plan to bomb a mosque in order to frame their enemies. It’s these trivial exchanges which are often the most comedically successful. Eventually, after several mis-steps and one major mishap, four of them head on down to London, intent on wreaking havoc on the London Marathon.

As you’ll probably know by now, most of the comedy is more slapstick and whimsical, in the mould of Dad’s Army, or even Last Of The Summer Wine than Morris’ more acclaimed work. Presumably the result of his desire try something new,  he’s admitted that he’s no longer interested in exposing the mechanism of a moral panic: ‘Once you’ve done that, why on earth would you think of doing that again? So to me the many moral panics surrounding Islam are the least interesting aspect of what is going on now.’ But if that’s not what’s going on, then what is? Yes, mockery can be the most lethal form of satire, but it begins to feel somewhat one-note. Cheerleaders of the film claim that Morris is ‘saying the unsayable. Most terrorists are inept.’ Well if you ever had the misfortune to see Mock The Weak after the failed attack on Glasgow Airport, this is clearly not the case.

Now I have no problem with the film being a pure comedy, but that requires it to be consistently funny, which it isn’t. There are plenty of laughs, Barry reasoning ‘Islam‘s lost it’s way. We got people playing stringed instruments!’ And (writers) Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong sure know their way around a creative insult. Likewise, the film doesn’t work as a serious meditation on the causes of Islamic fundamentalism. In one sense this is entirely justifiable as a 100 minute comedy is never going to scratch the surface, and indeed might give undue credence to these alleged ‘root causes.’ But a few anti-TK Maxx rants make Omar’s acolytes willingness to follow him blindly into death seem somewhat inexplicable. Sure, he exposes the hypocrisy of Islamic terrorists railing against Western society whilst listening to Toploader, but whilst funny, these seem like easy targets.

The central theme, that terrorists should be seen as humans rather than cartoon bogeymen is commendable, and rarely said in mainstream media. There’s an argument that it’s a satire of all of us – the terrorist who most resembles our IQ levels and values, and is most settled in a family sense, is also most dangerous. This is true to a degree, yet still doesn’t give any inkling as to why Omar takes a route most people do not. Morris’ raison d’être is to treat everyone with equal disdain – from the terrorists to the security forces. But the most savage humour is reserved for the police, rather than those who seek to kill indiscriminately.

In probably the stand-out scene of a strong finale, Kevin Eldon’s police marksman shoots an innocent man, but reasons with certain demented logic, ‘It must be the target, I shot it.’ Here Morris either doesn’t know what the target is, or more likely, given the religious sensitivity, daren’t aim for it, so he was never going to hit the bullseye. It is this tension between social commentary and out-and-out comedy, which punctures its chances of being an unequivocal success. Ultimately, whilst providing regular belly laughs and memorable lines, I found it kind of depressing and pointless. Which as metaphors for suicide bombing go, is bang on the money. Morris, you clever fuck.


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