Four Lions (2010) (R)

Incompetence is key with "Four Lions". There is no character on screen that can do anything half-way correctly. It also fearlessly tackles one of the most controversial subjects in the world and decides to make a comedy about it: terrorism.
The film, which is ten times as smart as it seems, is fairly operatic in its structure. It feels like a farce, but that's not what it is. "Four Lions" is a whimsical and deadly serious piece of work. Oddly enough, the two ways of the movies—the humor and the drama—are so well integrated with each other that it can leave the viewer breathless from the exhaustion of laughing until crying and crying until laughing.
The films observes four Muslim men who are desperately trying to be terrorists. They want to blow things up, they want to die for their religion, they wish to start a holy war.
But their ideals are all very romantic: die for your beliefs and here is where director and writer Christopher Morris is both very clever and very cruel. It's so easy to make the viewer's heart swell when a character is so filled with belief—he becomes beyond reproach unless the director disagrees with him and then he becomes a psychopath. But Morris abstains from making judgments by giving his characters huge flaws; but making you love them.
The smartest man in the group is Omar (Riz Ahmed). He and the unintelligent Waj (Kayvan Novak) are sent to Pakistan to go through training to become full fledged terrorists...they are terrible at it.
The ludicrousness of the film can be a little hard to swallow and the faux documentary style with which it is shot can be quite distracting; but once you get into the movie's mood, these both add to its success.
The deeper you get into the film, the more odd the gags get—they range from a man pretending to blow himself up at a public meeting, accidentally destroying an Al-Qaeda base, and a water fight between a fundamental Muslim—Omar's brother—and Omar's wife.
As offensive as "Four Lions" is to Islam, though it does draw a wide line between Islam and zealotry, it is just as offensive to everyone else. There are accidents everywhere, incompetence everywhere, and the sickest sense of humor you can find.
Morris seems to have crafted one of the darkest comedies in recent years. It's not raunchy or lewd, but it's far smarter than its contemporaries. It proves that a comedy with ideas can be funnier and more successful than a film relying on fart jokes—though they have their place too.
What is shocking about the film is how humanized all its characters are. Even though they are all stupid, ignorant, and caricatures of themselves, we some how find ourselves caring for all of them.
Morris is a very smart man.
But there are moments in the film that are too hard for the average viewer to digest and its ending is even more brash than Lars von Trier's "NYMPH( )MANIAC" bookend. Still, there is something special here, something that no other movie has, which is what everyone looks for.
Everyone has always made comedies about the tough subjects. That's why "The Great Dictator" worked and "Hogan's Heroes" was successful. "Four Lions", frankly, isn't that shocking and those offended have lost Morris' point.
Though he pokes fun at the idea of zealotry, he is sympathetic with his characters and that's what makes us sympathetic.
In comparison with the other famous British comedy to come out in this time period—"In the Loop"—"Four Lions" is far more enjoyable and far less preachy actually...yes, surprising.
It's a movie that is relentlessly enjoyable, hilarious at times, and at other times very unsettling; but as a whole it is a crushing success—one that demands to be viewed.
It is essential.

Score: ★★★½

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