Four Lions (Review)

Magnolia, 2010, Rated R

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Is terrorism funny? Are Islamic jihadists bent on destroying Western culture a laugh-riot? Not normally, but in British filmmaker and writer Christopher Morris’ Four Lions, they are dangerously hysterical.

The black comedy follows a group of inept, wannabe terrorists who are determined to find glory as suicide bombers. After being kicked out of a Pakistani terror camp following a bazooka mishap, Omar and his dim cousin return to their families and cohorts in Sheffield, England, and decide to take jihad into their own hands. Running a terrorist cell isn’t easy, though. In-fighting and strife grow amongst the motley Muslims, who are more comfortable arguing ideology and riling crowds at university lectures than building bombs. When the day of finally reckoning arrives, the plan proceeds in ways the “lions” never expected.

Four Lions could have easily been a wild, tasteless farce, lampooning terrorism in wide, palatable stokes. Morris eschews such tactics, instead using dry, smart, often subtle humor that grounds the film in realism. It’s a brilliant move that gives the film depth to probe the complexities of terrorism, the war on terror, religious fundamentalism, racism, group dynamics and family life. The latter point makes the film heartbreaking at times, especially when the ramifications and consequences of actions confront the terrorists and their families. 

The film isn’t above broad humor, though. Rockets fly astray. Animals explode accidentally. Terror videos become blooper fests. Fisticuffs, cut-downs and general goofiness ensue. These lighter moments are never light, though, allowing Four Lions to strike hard even when generating mad laughs. Grade B

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