The thing about Four Lions is that it shouldn’t be funny. The story of a group of radicalised British Muslims who decide on a suicide bomb attack in the UK sounds exactly like the sort of material that is antithetical to comedy; however, this film is hilariously, hugely, warmly funny, just as the poster suggests.
Even though this film is the brainchild of Chris Morris, the man behind the likes of On The Hour, The Day Today and Brass Eye (all hilarious but intelligent ridiculing of the media), there is still the idea that the film will be serious but that the laughs will be sporadic. This is a film about a serious subject, but Morris and co-writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (who can include Peep Show, The Thick Of It and In The Loop in their resumes) have written a really funny character piece that produces great lines and funny moments among the drama.
The film works because of the actors playing the terrorist cell: Riz Ahmed as Omar, the head of the group, with a loving wife and son; Kayvan Novak as Waj, his incredibly thick but lovable brother; Nigel Lindsay as Barry, the white convert (who gets moody when the others speak in Urdu to highlight his lack of authenticity); Arsher Ali as Hassan, the pseudo-rapper who wants to be a terrorist because it’s cool; and Adeel Akhtar as Fessal, the moronic bomb-maker who tries to use crows to deliver bombs (see the poster) and who thinks he is disguised when he uses the same voice (although supposed to be different) to buy vast quantities of liquid peroxide for his bombs from the local wholesale shop. The interplay between these characters, particularly Omar and Waj (who argue and banter like real brothers), is fantastic and their great delivery provides comedy in the mundanity of their pathetic attempts to be terrorists. It’s the little moments, like when they start listening to Arabic-sounding music on the drive to the suicide bomb attack but end up gustily singing along to Dancing In The Moonlight (while Barry glowers), that add up to a complete picture. There are some more familiar faces – Julia Davis and Kevin Eldon (old Morris hands from Jam), Darren Boyd (Saxondale, Green Wing, Smack The Pony), Alex Macqueen (The Thick Of It/In The Loop) – but it is the relative unknowns who hold your attention throughout.
This is also a thoughtful and moving film – Morris is said to have done years of research into the area, and there is heart in the story, including the loving family of Omar (his wife telling him that, during a time where he doesn’t want to a suicide bomber any more, he doesn’t have the same spark is heartbreaking) and Omar’s realisation of how far down this road he has taken his idiot brother, whom he has convinced that his reward in the afterlife will be like the rubber dinghy rapids ride at Alton Towers, meaning that there is more than just the constant laughter. Four Lions is a smart and very funny film, despite the fact that it is obviously Sheffield they are filming in when they are supposed to be in London – if they could afford a trip to Spain to film the scenes for the trip to a Pakistan terrorist training camp, couldn’t they have come to the real London?