Four Lions – Review
January 5, 2011 14 Comments
Directed by Christopher Morris. Starring Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay, Riz Ahmed
Chris Morris is probably not a very well-known figure outside of the UK. The English comedian, writer, actor and director is famous in his own country for his controversial radio programmes and television sketches.
Four Lions is his first feature film but it does suffer from that feeling of a made-for-TV type of product, both in its look, its format and its construction. It is essentially a series of sketches some of which are more successful than others, but as a whole it’s not as strong and coherent film as it wants to be.
Apparently it was originally rejected by both the BBC and Channel 4 as being too controversial, and you can easily see why. The plot tells of a group of inept suicide bombers and it’s clearly a subject anyone would normally stir well away from, especially in a comedy.
“Four Lions” is undoubtedly provocative and certainly quite a brave film, unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily make it a good one and in the end you can’t help feeling a sense of superficiality to the whole thing: it is an honorable but failed attempt.
The main problem is to do with its comic depiction of his main characters which veers not just toward the parody but the slapstick. This clownish approach makes it all a little bit too over simplistic and doesn’t ring quite true as it probably should. It’s hard to believe that somebody like Omar, the main character (Rix Ahmed, the only actor worth watching in the whole film) would actually decide to “work” or even just associate himself with anyone so stupid like all those people in his group.
What Chris Morris is trying to do is to make the terrorists look like regular guys, likeable people and not just real monsters. However by treating them like silly idiots, it diminishes the message of the film and any emotional response the audience could have towards them. So one side you have touching (and yet uncomfortable) scenes like the moment where Omar tells the story of his version to the “Lion King” to his son. On the other hand you get moments which could be straight out a Mr Bean sketch, undermining everything he’s done before and, above all, our suspension of disbelief . These two “styles” don’t necessarily glue together as a film.
I didn’t find the comedy very funny at all (call me sad, but I don’t think I laughed once) and because of these incongruous way of telling the story, nor I found the film as moving as it was probably trying to be.
On the technical side of things, it’s all done rather on cheap and it shows. There’s nothing remarkable about the photography, the music, or any of the technical aspect of the film, which makes me doubt whether this should have ever been a cinema experience at all.
Furthermore, the thick Sheffield accent and constant British references could even limit its worldwide appeal.
In the end it all comes across just as a brave but very superficial exercise and it’s a real shame because this could have been something quite different, almost life-changing.