SXSW 2010: Four Lions

Interested in testing the limits of the moviegoing public? Make a comedy about terrorism. At least, that’s what Christopher Morris has done with his feature film debut, “Four Lions,” a movie that will no doubt stir up controversy if it ever finds a distributor brave enough to release it in theaters. A pitch-black satire in the same vein as “Dr. Strangelove,” Morris has created a film so relevant to our current political climate that many will feel guilty just for watching it, let alone laughing at all the gut-wrenching humor along the way. For as risqué as the material may be, however, it’s impossible to deny that “Four Lions” is one of the funniest, most provocative comedies of the last decade – and one that has more to say than any of the numerous self-important war movies that Hollywood has been cranking out for years.

The film follows a group of wannabe suicide bombers from Britain who are so inept at being terrorists that they’re more dangerous to themselves than any potential target. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the most level-headed of the bunch, but when he’s kicked out of an Al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan because of his dim-witted friend, Waj (Kayvan Novak), they return home to find that their partners in crime, Fessal (Adeel Akhtar) and white Islamic convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay), have recruited a fifth member (Arsher Ali) to the cause. Desperate to save face, Omar informs the others that they’ve been ordered to blow themselves up at the London marathon.

four_lions

But for this team of bumbling idiots, that’s a lot harder than it sounds. When they’re not busy attaching bombs to crows, embarrassing themselves in jihad videos, or coming up with new methods of anti-surveillance, they’re bickering among themselves like old ladies. The power struggle between Omar and Barry provides the catalyst for most of these arguments, because while Barry might seem like the ideal person to be in charge, he has such radical ideas (like blowing up a mosque so that the peaceful Muslims rise up and join their fight) that it’s easy to see why he would fail as a leader.

The intensity of a character like Barry, however, is what ultimately makes “Four Lions” so successful, because Morris treats the material with such veracity that the jokes hit harder as a result. These guys might be complete imbeciles, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve managed to stockpile a dangerous amount of explosives capable of doing some serious damage. In fact, for all the comedy bred out of the film’s set-up, there are still quite a few unsettling moments scattered throughout, including a thrilling finale in the streets of London. Even more disturbing is the relationship between Omar and his family. His wife doesn’t only support what he’s doing, but seems to encourage it, while his son has become so familiar with the idea of jihad that his bedtime stories feature Simba and his fellow animal friends from “The Lion King” as suicide bombers.

It’s this kind of dark humor that makes “Four Lions” more of a tragicomedy than a satire, because even though the would-be terrorists can hardly be considered the heroes of the story, Morris makes them so likeable that you don’t want anything bad to happen to them. We know their intentions aren’t good, but because we’ve become so used to laughing at their blunders throughout the course of the film, we never really identify them as much of a threat. That’s mostly thanks to a brilliant script (co-written by Morris and two of the writers responsible for last year’s scathing political satire, “In the Loop”), which takes the buddy comedy formula and applies it to a hot-button topic with great aplomb. “Four Lions” may not be the first of its kind – Paul Weitz’s “American Dreamz” also flirted with the concept of mixing terrorism and comedy – but where that movie proved that no subject was taboo, Christopher Morris’ film demonstrates that sometimes it’s easier to get people to pay attention when you’re making them laugh.

  

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

Related Posts

Same movie news, different movie blog

Seems like today, everyone’s talking about the same few news items. I’d hate to be left out.

* Adding to the endless speculation over who will be cast as whom in “Spiderman 4,” Nikki Finke enters the more or less pointless but, I suppose, fun fray by naming Anne Hathaway as having been “approached” for a role which her readers have decreed to be the Black Cat.

* The Academy has come up with a short-list of nominees-to-be-nominees in the Best Documentary category. Everyone is making a big deal about the absence of Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” and then naming any one of a number of highly regarded documentaries that didn’t make the cut, including the rather predictably ignored “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” (looks like too much fun) and James Toback’s look at Mike Tyson (to, er, biting?). I’m personally not thrilled that “We Live in Public,” which I still think might be the most important movie made this year, is out of the running, but then I’m obviously somewhat personally invested. Anne Thompson is right, however, that the doc category is growing ever more interesting and crowded.

* The Oscars have an alliterative director. Will he win an Emmy?

* “New Moon” mania breaks out with news of huge early ticket sales. If you have more time on your hands than me, you can read this very lengthy interview and I’m sure pretty interesting interview with director Paul Weitz. I could barely skim it right now, but here’s a quote that leapt out at me:

I have been kind of hazed into the world of VFX, so I understand how to do that — or at least who to trust — and I get what it is that they’re trying to do. I think that with the right visual effects supervisor, I can direct animators who are animating creatures, who are like actors in that sense. It’s just that their performances are being done over the course of months. Each five-second shot takes months to develop. That stuff I like very much, but I wouldn’t say that I’m either an expert or kind of a savant as far as that goes. That’s Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro and Sam Raimi. That’s not me.

  

Related Posts

Mouse reshuffles, Leo the lion on the block, and other tales

* In the real world Obama appears to be rethinking Afghanistan; in the cable TV world Lou Dobbs is relieving CNN of his xenophobia and is threatening to go into politics while The Onion has the real scoop. Meanwhile in the movie world, Disney’s new chairman, Rich Ross, is reorganizing. It sounds as if technology will be leading the way in the new regime. Also, the structure of the organization will resemble more a television network, we’re told, than a movie studio. Once upon a time that might have worried me, but these days TV is hardly any worse than movies. I’m not sure if that’s good news about TV or bad news about movies. (A little of both?)

* The lion of Hollywood has been a bit mangy for a long time now. Peter Bart reports that MGM is about to be sold and the whole thing, 4,000 titles and all, is worth about $1.5 billion, which would be a lot of money to you and me but to a once mighty film studio sure sounds paltray. One factor, even the older titles in the library ain’t what they used to be, either. The studio’s signature titles: “The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone With the Wind,” and “Singin’ in the Rain” are now available on Warner Brother’s DVD along with a good chunk of their best known classics.  The ghosts of Culver City’s glory days are restless tonight.

6a00d8341c630a53ef00e552b209198834-800wi

* Apparently being a movie critic these days is such an unstable, lousy position that some of the best known reviewers are jumping ship and becoming film festival programmers. Yesterday, it was Newsweek’s David Ansen. Today, it’s the L.A. Weekly/Village Voice’s Scott Foundas. Anne Thompson has the depressing news that might nevertheless be creating more opportunities for some of the better known online folks.

* The fruits of my compatriot Will Harris’s London sojourn are appearing in the form of some extremely worth-your-time interviews. First with writer/director Richard Curtis of the criticially underrated “Love, Actually” and the soon to be released “Pirate Radio.” Also roly-poly movie superstud and general all around good guy Nick Frost of “Shaun of the Dead,” etc., as well as “Pirate” newcomers Tom Sturridge and Talulah Riley gets the Harris treatment as well. Bob says collect ’em all.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Related Posts

Gore v. chills at the box office

I keep reading that the studios are reducing their outputs and that we’ll be seeing fewer new movies, but there’s sure no sign of it lately as we have another complicated week where, at least in theory, anything can happen. Still, the prognosticators agree that the latest entry in the first and longest running franchise in the sub-genre of torture-heavy horror, “Saw VI,” will likely win the week for Lionsgate.

On the other hand, there is also a consensus that the low-violence yet entirely potent chills of “Paranormal Activity” will be cutting into the Saw-bucks some also. Obviously, there is some audience crossover but, just as obviously, the most jaded gore hounds may find it beyond tame. I’ve already noted online the start of an inevitable backlash. I doubt this reaction will have the same angry potency that afflicted “The Blair Witch Project” so many moons ago. In that case, Lionsgate’s attempt to persuade less-savvy audiences that it might actually be real probably backfired later on, as did the over-hype of some of the early write-ups.

This time, Paramount has been more cleverly circumspect than the “Blair Witch” marketers, simply making the case that the modest video-movie can really scare the bejesus out of an audience. I’m here to tell you it can, even though I feel sure that not a single person I saw it with was under any delusion that what we were watching was not staged. Still, you see the violence-loving fanboys complaining at certain sites. I mean, how can a movie be scary if it lets you imagine the worst of it? How is that ever going to work?

It’s probably pretty obvious by now, especially from my post just before this one, that I prefer the “Paranormal” approach and will be rooting for it but, despite the still growing excitement around the movie, it’s the definite underdog as “Saw VI” will be opening in 3,036 theaters, while it’s competitor will be expanding to a mere 1,900. However, the outstanding per-screen averages that the film has been nailing could compensate if some horror audiences find the prospect of yet another ultra-brutality fest less than ultra-appealing.

Though it’s yet another family-friendly CGI animated film, this one based on a property at least some of us remember from our childhoods, hopes are not all that astronomically high for the next film. Summit’s “Astro Boy” is based on the best known creation of Japan’s “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka, who basically invented both manga and anime as we now know them and who created some of the best comic books for adults that I’ve ever read. Of course, you’d never know from the horrendously lame gag at the end of the trailer or the often ugly CGI animation that ruins the beautiful 2-D (black and white, too!) of the early Tezuka cartoons as scene in the trailer. This appears to be another case of a studio adapting a property and missing what made the original work.

astro_boy_movie_image

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Related Posts