Religion is a funny old thing. It can make fairly normal people do incredibly strange things, like wear a half-naked man around their necks, cut bits of their genitals off, or have Tom Cruise as your spokesperson. Really weird stuff.
In recent times, horrific atrocities have taken place, all in the name of religion. This new film then, a comedy about a group of UK jihadists planning a terrorist campaign, could be deemed by many to be in bad taste. But that sweeping statement would actually be missing the point of the film, which is this: terrorists are only human.
Omar (Riz Ahmed) is an English Muslim, working a security job in a shopping centre. He and his family are disillusioned by the treatment of Muslims around the world, a sentiment he feels strongly enough about to actually do something about it. Heís not alone in his beliefs; he meets up with his simple-minded best friend Waj (Kayvan Novak), white Islamic convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and bomb-maker Faisal (Adeel Akhtar). They are passionate about the cause, but fall way short from being the kind of terrorists to strike fear into the hearts of mankind.
When Omar gets a call from Pakistan to attend a training camp however, he believes that heís that little bit closer to playing his part in the Holy war. When training doesnít quite go to plan, he decides that he has to take matters into his own hands to save face within his group; he decides that the London Marathon is just the kind of event to make their religious statement go with a bang.
Director Chris Morris is on first name terms with controversy, theyíre that close. His sense of humour has always been anchored in the darkest of blacks in the swatch chart of comedy. That wonít come as a surprise to anyone who has seen him perform in either of the satirical shows The Day Today or Brass Eye. If anyone was going to make a comedy terrorist film, it would have to be him.
Itís not all his doing however, as heís also got Peep Show writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain involved with the writing. As triumvirates of dark comedy go, this takes some beating. And as proof goes, this is one funny pudding. This provides a huge dilemma though: is it ok to laugh at?
The answer is, of course it is. But never will you feel more uncomfortable doing so than here. And herein lies the dichotomy; Morris has created a bunch of amiable characters who have more in common with Laurel and Hardy than fanatical terrorists. Audiences are well aware of their horrific intentions, but still canít help themselves for liking them. Their actions can in no way be condoned, yet thereís a semblance of understanding as to why theyíre doing what theyíre doing.
One of the main reasons that you shouldnít beat yourself up over enjoying this film is this: it is a work of fiction. Yes itís slightly warped, but that doesnít make it any closer to fact. These men donít exist and the events didnít happen. So relax.
Still, itís bound to ruffle a few feathers; in particular bird lovers, as some crows get a rough time of it. But as far as religion is concerned, itís difficult to see if there might be any reprisals; the Muslims portrayed arenít exactly the brightest sparks in the mosque, but the religion as a whole gets off relatively lightly. Whether Morris will give a fatwa though to any outcry that may follow, remains to be seen.
What should be remembered is that itís a story about a group passionate about their religious beliefs, and not about those beliefs themselves. If youíre easily offended however, or just of a sensitive disposition, then best stay away. Not that thereís anything really shocking here; once you get your head around the initial brow-raising premise, whatís left is little more than a really funny bromance.
Four Lions is easily the best terrorist comedy youíll see in years, and thatís something that Morris can be extremely proud of.