About eighteen months ago Chris Morris rang me about a guy I know who he thought might be interested in investing in his film, a comedy about British Born Wanna Be Al Qaeda bombers. I had just sat down to eat my lunch and about 45 minutes later when he'd finished his first sentence I eventually got to eat it. Not that it wasn't an enjoyable conversation. Or listen, on my part.
At the time he was struggling to get any movie industry backing, high net worth individuals were shying away and he had yet to stumble on the idea of getting his fans to pay for the film. This in it's own right was a genius idea. Only this morning, on the eve of the film's release, a guy proudly called 5Live to say he had been invited to invest in the film through popbitch.com. Everyone likes to say they are the father of success and with punters investing the equivalent of a good night out Morris bridged the shortfall in the production budget without exposing anyone to any potential terror backlash. Needless to say I explained the person whose wallet he wanted to lighten wasn't quote so keen on exposing himself to outrage as his infamous earlier days might have suggested and pointed him in another direction.
It sounds sort of strange now suggesting there might be a terror backlash against this moving and very funny comedy, certainly not from Al Qaeda. On the one hand the bombers are shown as a bunch of slack minded idiots ("I'm as a thick as fudge" says one) but on the other they are shown as everyday guys who have a belief they want to fulfil. At the time of making the film the Danish Cartoon Scandal was stoking Muslim anger across the world and Morris and his co-producers at Warp Films must have felt like they were working in a very lonely place.
The media are already at work firing up the anger of victims of the London 7/7 bombs, not that it must take much. A film that reminds those that lost friends and relatives in the tragedy is going to receive little credit from them. But if anything the film offers some insight into the ordinariness of the bombers lives, it robs them of their demonic status. There are those that rightly point out that bombers such as portrayed in 4 Lions should be demonised but Morris' film makes the point that until they actually start detonating themselves they aren't so much suicide bombers as confused young men.
“I may ask you to blow yourself up but I will never ask you to piss in your own mouth.”
There's no denying the film's comedic value. It is frequently absolutely hilarious and that serves to do more than merely entertain us. It lulls the viewer into a false sense of perspective before the reality of the films outcome kicks in. In the past Morris' comedy has bludgeoned hypocrisy and celebrity, think 'Cake', but 4 Lions takes a step closer to the films of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach with their often uncontrollable domestic panic and despair, than the sharp parody of his own Brass Eye. A spoof which became a template for World Television News.
The most moving scene in 4 Lions is when the faintly disbelieving wife of the only bomber who seems truly intent of sacrificing himself for a purpose realises he is actually going off to commit his atrocity. That the plan has moved up a level from when the would be bombers were communicating through Puffin icons on a kids game site. As she is stuck behind a perspex work station talking to two policemen her look says it all, one man's bomber is another woman's husband.
Seeing long distance shots of Sheffield allows the world to see the city minus the famous cooling towers that were recently blown up and flattened. These are the same streets that appeared in The Full Monty and When Saturday Comes. Much as The Full Monty used humour to turn a light on the despair of longterm unemployment and bleak job prospects so 4 Lions uses humour to go beyond the screaming headlines and police reports.
Whilst Morris illuminates the danger, dreams and stupidity of the young Muslims he also shows in sharp relief the shortcomings of the security services - the trendy negotiator who wants to talk to the hostage taking Muslim about girls, the interrogator who confronts the devout Muslim with a weetabix, and most alarmingly the confusion between two police marksmen who, having killed the wrong suspect decide "well that was the guy I shot so he must have been the target."
Morris has done little but take the madness of everyday life, where young men feel they need to blow themselves up to make a place for themselves in this and the next world, and reflected on how it really might have been. As he has said, men fuck up everything, often unintentionally.
Here's the best lines from the film.
"I'll stitch your gobs to a shit pipe." (in sub-titles)
"You pyjama wearing cockerel dicks." (still in sub-titles)
"You killed him more!"
"You and your boys look like ... something rubbish."
"He was carrying explosives and he tripped up over a sheep."
"No more widdling in me gob?"
"I may ask you to blow yourself up but I will never ask you to piss in your own mouth."
"I'm as thick as fudge."
"Fathers for Justice have teamed up with the Real IRA, it's a real nightmare."
To purchase Four Lions, click the link below.