Through Riz Ahmed’s character, the would-be terrorist Omar, director Chris Morris has skilfully encapsulated the Government’s ‘Prevent’ conundrum. Omar is at once naïve and intelligent, foul-mouthed and gentle, pitiless but tender. In short, he is human, very human. But how to ‘reach out’ to young men like him and prevent losing them to a violent and misguided cause?
Morris’ portrayal of five friends and wannabe jihadists from up North is by turns thought provoking, insightful, heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny. While it may be easy to categorise the other characters– the loon Barry, the weirdo Faisal, the handsome but ‘thick as fudge’ Waj and the excitable Hassan – ringleader Omar stands out. His character breaks the media stereotype of a one dimensional, cold-blooded martyr. A loving husband and father, he is sure of his goals, but his mixed-up ideals and confused morality are clear from the beginning.
We enter the young men’s lives at a critical stage, having formed their own cell they move on to making bombs and planning suicide targets, a suggested option being the internet. The reasons behind their motives are unoriginal, expressed through regular outbursts of frustrated anti-capitalist, anti-Government and anti-Mini Babybel rhetoric. The most subversive aspect of this story is how normal the characters can appear: Morris emphasises these are no slick, suicide-camp trained explosives experts, they are utterly clueless, bungling bombers caught between the real world and their own.
The deadpan humour and sharp wit throughout the film only serves to highlight the complexity of the situation. Morris’ astute observations of the young men and state incompetence when dealing with terrorism are artfully woven throughout the film. From the marksman who mistakenly shoots down an innocent man, to the fake extraordinary rendition of Omar’s innocent brother who becomes unjustly implicated in extremist activity, this is satire at its best.
The film’s culmination at the London marathon has some gripping, heart-stopping moments, but the most poignant scenes are when the credits roll. Accompanied by a fittingly mournful piano score, the music is an ode to the futility of the lives lost and will inspire a sad smile at the thought of Waj’s ‘rubber dinghy rapids’ (the adrenaline filled rollercoaster ride he imagines the afterlife to be).
With the five year anniversary of 07/07 fast approaching, Four Lions is a timely and worthy contribution to the discourse on home-grown extremism and a must-see for an original perspective on a sensitive subject.