Friday, 21 May 2010

four lions (d morris, w morris, bain & armstrong)

It's been over a week since I saw the much heralded Four Lions. Which was to be enjoyed. In spite of the fact that the trailers and the sneak previews had already used many of the funniest clips, Morris' provocative humour still packed a punch, and the premise is too perfect for the film not to succeed on some level or another. The notion of making a comedy about a group of suicide bombers, exposing not the fundamentalist but the British roots of their endeavour, is both bold and in a strange way beautiful. The scene where three of the four are in a van driving down to London to do their deed, singing along to the cheesiest of pop hits, Dancing in the Moonlight, captures some kind of ludicrously believable truth. It's in the British psyche to be 'a bit of a nutter'. These are jovial fools, followers of Falstaff as much as Allah, the type of characters who have been celebrated in English literature through the ages.

At the same time, a week later, I'm not sure if the film's conceit quite comes off. The double task of personalising and ridiculing these hapless figures only functions in patches, no matter how hard Riz Ahmed works to pull it off. At times the piece strays into the terrifying realm of 'comedy drama', meaning that it refrains from going for the jugular in the style of Morris' television work. Some of the comedy felt tame, not least in the outtakes that are filtered at the end, and the political messaging has no real clarity. Morris is at his most effective as a Swiftian provocateur, a respecter of no rule, upto and including the injunction that declares we have to care about the characters. In the end, Four Lions might have been more powerful (and more funny) had it followed a Godardian rather than an Ealing Comedy model, although that kind of debate would surely have been anathema in the funding rounds the film would have had to go through.

Nevertheless, I suspect Four Lions shall be looked back on with fondness, in the same way we look back on the likes of Porridge, or Citizen Smith. It's a curious, slightly disjointed film, but one that has the cojones to address and humanise a subject that British culture usually struggles to deal with in anything except the most worthy of ways. It will be interesting to see how it fares abroad.

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