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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Four Lions", brave but unsatisfactory satire

Four Lions

"You are not angry with people when you laugh at them. Humor teaches them tolerance."
William Somerset Maugham

The issue "Four Lions" addresses is no joke: terrorism. But director and satirist Chris Morris wants to show that there's no subject that can escape humour, even the, at least in principle, most appalling situations. It's a risky move, that has to praised by its braveness. The concept of black comedy reaches a new dimension with this film.

The plot is simple: the preparations of a terrorist cell in the UK as they plan a suicide bombing attack. But an unconventional one, light-years from what we have in mind when we think of terrorists. Our four lions are supposedly normal Asian people living in the suburbs, who are essentially (and laughably) inept, at times impossibly stupid, in their quest for their horrible goal, allowing us to see a ludicrous amount of absurd situations.

"Four Lions" is thought-provoking because it achieves something remarkable. While it builds a farce, it creates an empathy with the four ridiculous characters. They are not brutal, ruthless monsters, but really funny and naive people that have it all wrong, in their head, with the teachings they have received or "absorbed". That is, probably, a bigger and deeper lesson than many "high-level" resolutions addressed to counter international terrorism.

In the mockery of this shoddy terrorists and their aim to martyrdom the movie, despite unbalanced, has many moments of pure and hilarious delirium. The comparison with Monty Python's humour style is quite appropriate as "Four Lions" uses a sketch-based conceit. Prepare yourself to laugh, with some situations (involving Bin Laden, animals or videos) laughter is guaranteed.

But that sketch structure also hurts the film. There's a serious lack of continuity on it, and the more the film advances, the more one has the feeling we are moving from gag to gag. I seriously doubt "Four Lions" works as whole. It is disjointed, with several scenes that seem pointless and a few others that look redundant.

My other doubt has to do with the "serious" scenes (can mention at least a couple that won't spoil but are really obvious) and the tone of the end, that is a huge change from the overall satire we were seeing. Are they done on purpose? Did Morris wants to leave a message? If so, why is he omitting the motivations (or the origin) that brought our silly terrorist to act that way? Really strange.

Overall, "Four Lions" is a true rarity. For the good, being brave, radical, and at times, very funny, but also the bad, being unbalanced and unsatisfactory.
"In the end, everything is a gag."
Charlie Chaplin

SCORE: 5,5/10

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and weird film... Some gags in the beginning almost made me cry with laughter, but some scenes in the end made my blood run cold...

    Today I've met a friend who had just seen the movie. He was reading an interesting summary of an interview to Chris Morris. Then I've found the full interview at:

    http://www.femail.com.au/chris-morris-four-lions-interview.htm

    Here's a briefing:

    "A bomb goes off. We tear about like headless chickens. Then we try to calm down. We lock the door on our dread. We go shopping. So now our dread works in the dark. It infests the fabric. We change our laws. We restrict our freedoms. We lash out at strangers. Brilliant. Of course we long to laugh at our fears but we don't know how. Where's the joke in terror? Actually, as Four Lions will demonstrate, it's staring you right in the face.At training camps young jihadis argue about honey, shoot each other's feet off, chase snakes and get thrown out for smoking. When 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was teased for pissing too loudly, he blamed the Jews for making thin bathroom doors. A minute into his martyrdom video, a would-be bomber grinds to a halt and asks the cameraman, "what was the question again?" Terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohamed spends two hours looking for a costume that won't make him look fat on camera.

    In three years of research, I have spoken to terrorism experts, imams, police, secret services and hundreds of Muslims. Even those who have trained and fought jihad report the frequency of farce. On millennium eve, five jihadis planned to ram a US warship with a launch full of bombs. In the dead of night they slipped their boat into the water. They stacked it with explosives. They stepped in. It sank. Terrorist cells have the same group dynamics as stag parties and five a side football teams. There is conflict, friendship, misunderstanding and rivalry. Terrorism is about ideology, but it's also about berks".

    [...]

    "Cases in the high court and meetings with Muslims only confirmed the impression. People go to training camps in the wrong clothes, forget how to make bombs, fight with each other and then fight again over who just won the fight, volunteer for the mujahedeen and get told to go home and "do the knitting". They talk about who's cooler - bin Laden or Johnny Depp."

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