“Is the honey monster a bear?”
By the time you’ve heard this line of dialogue your sides will be splitting. Terrorism is something that the media and government spook us with. Perhaps comedy is what we need to rationalise terrorism and fear.
Whatever, let’s leave the cod-philosophising to the side and focus on the important questions. Is it intelligent? Yes. Is it funny: Hell Yes! The trailers do not do this film justice. Make it through the first 20 minutes and the laughs come rolling in.
A terrorist cell from the Northern England made up of Omar (Riz Ahmed), Barry (Nigel Lindsay), Waj (Kayvan Novak) and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) set out to commit a terrorist act within the United Kingdom. They go from terrorist training camps to bomb-making as the scheme comes closer to fruition.
This has to be one of the best films of the year so far. It’s a sad indictment of the stupidity created by peer pressure and herd mentality and it delivers it through moronic jihadis. These guys are disenchanted with society but displaying that disenchantment is not the point, it is a clever analysis of media, manipulation and the foolish (easy prey for manipulative terrorist recruiters and the over-zealous authorities).
The most able of these northern nit-wits is the genial family man Omar who tries to keep the scheme afloat. His character constantly manipulates the group and clashes with Barry, an obsessive recent white convert who is overcompensating for various things. Both Ahmed and Lindsay deliver great performances in their respective roles.
The constant verbal sparring between the characters is hilarious. When the terrorists recite their rhetoric, it soon degenerates into nonsensical, arguments and pedantry, manipulation and struggles for control.
The constant mix of northern colloquialisms, Urdu and badly misinterpreted propaganda constantly reinforce the fact that these guys are young, confused and British. One of the dialogue stand-outs takes place between Waj and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Special Branch negotiator, a scene which lasts a few minutes and spirals hilariously out of control.
Everything about the characterisation and dialogue to the small details like news-reports (watch the screen on the tram for the news headline) and props are brilliantly thought out and the physical comedy builds up the incompetence of the group making them more like Dad’s Army than antagonists from 24.
The cultural references (Rambo, social networking, explaining terrorism through the Lion King and theme park rides) reinforce the fact that they are just as much created by the media they deride. They are humanised as we recognise and relate to them in certain ways, robbing terrorists of the image of omniscient evil that the media has given them and revealing them as the idiots a lot of them are. This leads to an ending that is poigniant as well as funny.
Director, Chris Morris has gone from dead-pan TV comedy gold with Brass Eye and The Day Today to movie gold. with Four Lions. Watch it and laugh your fears away.