It's late at night, so I'll skip Teenage Paparazzo and Howl for now to concentrate on the world premiere of Chris Morris's directing debut, FourLions, which premiered tonight at the Egyptian theatre. I won't keep you on tenterhooks, I thought it was great; it's a slow burn to start, but I think that once it has bedded in, Four Lions will prove to be one of the most original, provocative and enduring comedies of the early 21st century. I'll admit now that I haven't always been a diehard Morris fan. The Day Today, with its flashes of brilliance, often left me cold, and, to be honest, I'm not sure I ever saw a second of Jam. Brass Eye, though, got my attention, and I must be the only person in the world that loves Nathan Barley. Like, really, really, really loves Nathan Barley.
So, in a nutshell, I didn't go in thinking of Morris as the second coming, and I feel comfortable in saying that if you had high hopes for this film, I really don't think you'll be disappointed. For me, the closest equivalent I can think of is a classic Ealing movie, something like Kind Hearts And Coronets, or, to a lesser extent, The Ladykillers. People think nowadays of Ealing comedies as quaint, starchily witty affairs, but far from it: though those films professed to have very rigid ideas of right and wrong, part of the fun of them was the murkiness of the shades of grey in between. My favourite example of this is in Kind Hearts, when the vengeful Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) murders the nicest, most gentle member of the D'Ascoyne family (all played by Alec Guinness), simply because he has to. We, the audience, know this, and even though we feel sympathy for his victim, the first impulse we get when we see his shed blow up is not to feel shocked – it's to laugh.
The genius of Ealing was that the viewer's conscience was always allowed back into the room later, like an intellectual backdraft. And this is what Morris is working with here. Though it's not technically very flash, Four Lions has an intelligent and emotional subtlety that could be risky for its immediate commercial appeal. Morris doesn't labour his satire, he concentrates on character, just as Ealing did, with the result that Four Lions is the most engaging and fuzzy-warm film about people who want to kill you that you'll ever see. They are clumsy, vain, moronic and misguided, yet for all their faults, these are people that are actually fun to spend some time with. And even at the end, when their jihadi plans threaten to reach a kind of fruition, it's quite uncomfortably hard to stop caring for these unlikely brothers as they take their terrorist plot to the streets of London.
Because, oh yes, Four Lions really is a film about terrorists, and not in a pussyfoot way. Though the style is low-key and the comedy deadpan, what these guys are about is absolutely real: nail bombs, explosives, collateral damage, the whole nine yards. But the genius of this film is to take us into their world; we don't know what the motives are, or how they came to be radicalised, but we do know that they've assembled into a half-arsed cell by the time we meet them. Led by Omar (Riz Ahmed), a middle-class security guard who lives with his wife and kid, the group includes the mouthy white radical Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the idiot Waj (Kayvan Novak) and the borderline vegetable Fessel (Adeel Akhtar). Recruited by Barry while Omar and Waj are away on an abortive trip to a Pakistan training camp, Hassan (Arsher Ali) rounds out this bickering yet strangely loyal quintet.
I'm being deliberately vague on story here; I don't want to spoil too much other than to say not only is Morris's film a deliciously subversive comic ride, it truly gunges up the synapses with so many conflicting emotions while the one-liners are flowing that the only thing you can do is give in to its demented logic and laugh, all the while praying that you'll get your moral compass back when this whole thing is over. But my saying that this isn't just the usual pandering to Morris's envelope-pushing prowess: it's also thanks to a brilliant cast, notably Ahmed, who really shows a brave and mature talent here. I have a feeling that broadsheets and tabloids alike will take potshots at this film for its more out-there moments (Omar openly shares his martyrdom fantasies with his wife and young son), but the reason I think this film is so important is that its British-Asian actors – these are not outside insurgents, they're homegrown northerners – are so within Morris's world, and so up to speed with his humour, that it articulates an inclusive viewpoint on suicide bombers in which the whole notion of 'them and us' does not just boil down to race: it boils down to them, the idiots, and us, the people who only see horror in extremism.
The traditional, liberal way to deal with anything as bold and brilliant as this is to look for the flaws, to find that bit of the canvas that isn't quite shaded and say, 'Look! There's a bit missing!' Or it's to side with the establishment outrage and pretend to be different by saying, 'For all it's immaturity, there is something significant here.' Personally, I think Four Lions is a creeping, under-the-skin classic, a comedy that will reward viewing after viewing and might ultimately best last year's In The Loop for quotability. And by the year's end, who knows what the result will be? Either Chris Morris will be in hiding in Salman Rushdie's broom cupboard or the phrase “Fuck Mini Babybel!” will become a national treasure. If there is a God, an Allah, whatever, it must surely be the latter.
baerrtt Posted on Sunday January 24, 2010, 14:51
Thanks for the review Damon. Glad to hear that Morris is back on form and bound to once again give the Daily Mail heart attacks LOL!
Joshjuice Posted on Sunday January 24, 2010, 18:58
Thanks for review Damon, can't wait to see it, although I think Barry is played Nigel, not Kevin Lindsay. Good actor. Joe
(*Note taken; I wrote that at 3am, bear in mind! - Damon)
gambit21 Posted on Monday January 25, 2010, 10:01
Trashbat dot cocc, Dan Ashcroft! you think you are the only person in the world who loves nathan barley- you offend me sir. Goods news about four lions though, awesome. Happy Now?
His Dudeness Posted on Monday January 25, 2010, 13:33
Dan Ashcroft aka Preacher Man, works at magazine SugaRape, that's Sugar Ape but we've made the R a capital so that they think there getting angry at the word "Rape" but really their getting angry at the word "Ape".
Jack'sSmirkinRevenge Posted on Monday January 25, 2010, 13:42
Really looking forward to this now. In the meantime, think I'll play a bit of Cock, Muff, Bum hole
Damon_Wise Posted on Monday January 25, 2010, 16:01
Gambit21: I said "really, really, really!" Dutch wine, "fill these", "It's not funny - but it makes us laugh..."
Sentinel11 Posted on Monday January 25, 2010, 16:36
any word on a UK release date for this?
Damon_Wise Posted on Tuesday January 26, 2010, 02:00
Spring seems to be the tentative plan, but this may change!