UKCert (UK): 15
Runtime: 101 mins
Directors: Chris Morris
Cast: Adeel Akhtar, Arsher Ali, Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay, Preeya Kalidas, Riz Ahmed
Bafta nominated (2011) for best British film
At the heart of this film lies a terrible cowardice. Four Lions has been promoted as a brave satire on Islamic fundamentalism, but it is the liberal equivalent of a schoolboy testing out a teacher to see how far he can go. Morris has a very good sense of what will be tolerated in these pc times.
The story is inspired by the London bombings of July 2005, the 7/7 explosions. But instead of exploding bombs on the underground and buses, these terrorists intend to go ballistic during the London Marathon. The film follows their preparations to become suicide bombers and their actual attempt.
The cowardice is seen in the ethnic make up of the wannabe bombers – the Four Lions of the title – and the way they are depicted. One of the bombers Barry ( Nigel Lindsay) is white and English and the others are Asian - Omar (Riz Ahmed), Waj (Kayvan Novak), Hassan (Arsher Ali). A fourth Asian member of the group Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) blows himself up accidentally before the attack on London. Blacks are conspicuous only by their absence, an omission which I suspect is indicative of an unconscious association of Islam with Asians, especially those of sub-continental origin, in the white liberal mind.
Compare that fictional group with the reality of Islamic terrorism in the UK. No native white Muslim has been convicted of actually trying to bomb any target within or outside Britain’s border or perpetrated a successful attack. Those who have died in a successful suicide attack or been apprehended during an attempt have been either Asian or black – one of the 7/7 bombers – Jermaine Johnson was black , as was the “shoe bomber” Robert Reid who failed to explode a bomb on a plane bound for the USA.
The purpose of making one of the bombers white and English is clear: to defuse the us- and-them nature of Islamic terrorism, the message of the character being that Islamic terrorism is not a matter of race or ethnicity, but of belief and that such terrorists can be drawn from any part of the population, including those who are unequivocally indigenous. However, this effect is somewhat lessened by the failure to include a black amongst the bombers,
Having slanted the story through the ethnicity of the characters, Morris then reduces the seriousness of the subject matter to a Keystone Cops burlesque by making the bombers appear terminally stupid and grotesquely incompetent.
The white convert Barry is essentially a football hooligan who has found a new interest (Islam) and transferred his desire for mayhem to that. He is constantly belligerent in the most asinine way suggesting amongst other things that the group bomb the local mosque to politicize “their Islamic brothers”.
Of the Asian characters , Waj is the type who in real life would be described as having learning difficulties and the others are just routinely thick or naïve. The nearest any of them come to normality is the group leader Omar who has a wife and child.
Their incompetence is relentless. They all seem incapable of simply living independent lives, let alone organizing a co-ordinated suicide bomb attack. Whether they are at a training camp in Pakistan , testing out bombs in Br itain or engaged in the attack on the London Marathon they make slapstick errors. They move explosives and Faisal trips over and accidentally sets off a bomb which kills him. Omar and Waj go to terrorist training camp in Pakistan and fire a rocket at what they presume is the enemy. The “enemy” turns out to be some of their fellow Islamic terrorists whose numbers are considerably trimmed by the resulting explosion, which also brings enemy drones in to attack the camp.
When they finally go to London to explode their bombs, they manage to do so but in the most farcical fashion. Hassan loses his nerve and goes to hand himself into the police only to be blown up remotely by Barry using a phone. Barry then fights with Omar to prevent him contacting Waj because Omar is going to tell Waj not to kill himself. To prevent this Barry swallows Omar’s SIM card. This makes Barry begin to choke. A passer-by seeing him choking begins the Heimlich maneuver on Barry and whilst doing this sets off Barry’s bomb. And so it goes on . Omar gets hold of another phone and attempts to talk Waj into giving himself up , but the line is lost as the police charge the kebab shop Waj has retreated to where he takes hostages. Waj panics and detonates his bomb . Finally, Omar in despair, goes into a chemist shop and explodes his bomb.
This representation of the bombers as fools and incompetents is dangerous. It implies that such people are so idiotic that the threat they represent is, in the larger scheme of things, negligible. Not only that, but the film says look, only really stupid and inadequate people with an incompetence bordering on cretinism would engage in this type of activity.
The problem with this message is that the 7/7 bombers did manage to carry out a coordinated attack on London,. They had the wit to construct effective bombs (even the bombers in the film were given that ability which rather clashed with their general incompetence ) and the organizational abilities and discipline to carry out the bombing. Four Lions is attempting to do with Islamic terrorists what was done with Hitler, represent the object of danger as a figure of fun. That is a dangerous thing to do because it sanitises the enemy.
If Morris had wanted to make a truly courageous and honest film about Muslim terrorists in Britain, he would have left the indigenous population out of it, had a mixed group of Asians and blacks as the bombers, shown the terrorists as something more able than blundering blockheads and, most importantly, included in the screenplay the type of fanatical hatred of this country and its people which can be found on so many Islamic websites and not only on those sites commonly viewed as extremist.