TIM LINCE: Four Lions

Starring Preeya Kalidas, Benedict Cumberbatch and Julia Davis. Directed by Chris Morris. Released May 7 2010. Certificate 15. Genre – Comedy.

My thoughts before

MY most eagerly awaited comedy film of the year finally arrives, as satirical genius Chris Morris returns afters a half-decade wait with this new film.

His last work was the critically divided Channel 4 sitcom Nathan Barley which, after living and mingling around the target audience he was writing (with Charlie Brooker) about, I rate as one of the best of the decade (alongside The Office and Spaced).

Morris is, of course, best known for his earlier and more controversial work.

Daily Mail readers may be aware of the Brass Eye Special in 2001 that was a brilliant satire on the media reaction to paedophiles. The massive uproar from the Conservative Pc brigade was entirely appropriate and exactly the reaction Chris Morris was satirising in the work.

It reminded me of the recent controversy around the 200th South Park episode, where creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker took a swipe at the ridiculous invisible rules on media censorship (something Morris has had a long standing problem with) and the threats from extremists against the episode was (I imagine) the response they’d hope for – the realisation the next week that these dangerous individuals had offered a death threat over a cartoon drawing of Santa in a bear costume made them look rather silly.

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And Chris Morris steps into these similar shoes, as Four Lions has already caused a bit of a stir – this story of terrorists plotting a devastating catastrophe in our capital has already sparked media outlets decrying its banning.

Hopefully cinema chains don’t bow down to the pressure (as Comedy Central did in America by heavily censoring the South Park episode) and either censor or ban Four Lions.

The heyday of both Brass Eye, Blue Jam (on Radio 1) and The Day Today are still contemporary genius pieces of social commentary and hilariously funny still – and if he can still connect to modern issues as he did back then, which I’ve no doubt he will, this will be one of the funniest films of the year.

Cannot wait.

Afterwards

SHORTLY after my screening of Four Lions I received a link to the Daily Mail review for it and how appropriate it was!

Who would think that renowned reviewer Christopher Tookey, who only a few weeks ago gave the critically praised superhero film Kick-Ass one star, would miss the point and slate it.

This is the reviewer that, let’s not forget, has given last year’s big blockbuster disaster flick 2010 a higher rating (four stars) than the brilliant work of art Precious (three stars) and the dreadful tripe Adventureland received the same rating as the game-changing Avatar (three stars).

The hugely disappointing comedy Bruno received double the rating of the Oscar nominated and ridiculously well written Tarantino smash Inglorious Basterds.

I completely understand critical difference but sometimes it’s hard to trust a man whose own opinion seems to perfectly match the newspaper’s own views so perfectly. And he has the cheek to end his Four Lions review by saying writer/director Chris Morris has ‘transparently terrible taste’ (look who’s talking!).

So as I read through his misguided review of Morris’ comedy I was angered that his words would potentially lessen the audience who would go and see this great piece of often surreal but strangely poignant social commentary.

As I sat down and took in the first 15 minutes, where we’re thrown right into the ludicrous plotting of would-be suicide bombers, my laughter was mixed with slight anxiety – if a couple of Islamist extremists proclaimed death threats at the animated frolics of South Park two weeks ago then an hour-and-a-half mickey-take would surely lead to even worse reactions from those very same angry people?

I decided to forsake these thoughts though because, ultimately, Four Lions is, and only is, a character piece of a bunch of very confused individuals.

So what could have been a movie-length Brass Eye special on Terrorism turned into the quite tragic tale of a group of British Asians who seem to have been brainwashed by an unknown source into hating Western culture – for pretty unspecified reasons.

But out-and-out it’s a comedy at its heart, yanking on to the absurdities this ragtag gang go through to realise their muddled fantasy; something that as I was watching I had an increasing feeling this was more latched to reality than the humour may seem.

Take the bungled terrorist attack in New York last week, which was basically a few cans of petrol, fertiliser and petrol – as Four Lions’ conclusion, as they attempt a tragedy at the London Marathon, plays out in slapstick style (complete with funny costumes of course!) I can’t help but think the similarities with the failed New York bomb were there.

The media and the Government have spent years painting this overly dangerous and organised picture of the terrorist’s cells that exist in many countries across the world, often to justify some of the more draconian measures they put through, and generally the public have been taken in by it.

Chris Morris, in his usual not-quite-hilarious-but-thought-provoking style, has put the research in and offered up a plainly honest alternative view that will ruffle feathers and raise many smiles and reveal how utterly Dads Army-like these people must be like.

The characters weren’t as rich as I’d hoped (in fact some of them were basically for comedy fodder) but each played their part right until the end – written as people we can’t really relate to at all but we can ‘like’ as characters, the almost-tragic ending adds an extra layer to the film that managed to raise a smile and a debate.

A crucial element that could get the right-wing brigade up in arms is that Morris and crew are somehow saying that all terrorists are to be laughed at and mocked; he isn’t.

He’s simply pointing out the elements of farce that exist in operations like this – witnessing one of the would-be terrorist’s bumbling argument that ‘taking out a mosque would anger all the moderates and they’ll rise up and start the real war’ is something I can imagine an inept mirror of that character thinking as a good idea and logical.

As a film, and as with all of his previous work, it’s a smartly written and filmed piece of work. It’s filmed in more of a television style than a movie, although that’s not to its detriment – it fits the tone perfectly.

Not every joke hits the marks and its influence, sadly, will probably be Britain-only as much of the humour is derived from our shores (Boots, Phones4U etc are mentioned). This may limit the scope of the film which is a possible missed opportunity to have a further-reaching absurd message.

With some scenes that will play out as comically iconic, such as when one of the ‘gang’ plot to put a bomb on a pet crow to take out a sex shop (and what follows is the film’s first real surprise), this is almost definitely going to be the most important comedy film of the year.

And if it opens the eyes to only a small proportion of society that this terrorist threat we’re supposed to be constantly scared of isn’t this all-knowing, all-masterful plotting beast then its influence may span even longer than that.

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