Saturday, 15 January 2011

Four Lions (2010) - Chris Morris

I think when most people hear the name Chris Morris the C word springs to mind. No not that one (potty brain), I meant controversial. He's spent the past twenty years pushing the boundaries of what we find acceptable to laugh at. From his early days on the radio phoning people to get a reaction to the (fake) death of British politician Michael Heseltine, through to the Brass Eye scandal episode about peodophilia, he's pushed moral boundaries to their limits, had questions asked in Parliament (the still genius Cake episode of Brass Eye) but more than that he's had us rolling around on the floor, tears streaming down our collective faces, laughing until it hurts. The thing is I've always thought that no subject is taboo when it comes to comedy, it has to be funny - that's the only rule. A joke about kids in wheelchairs is only in poor taste if it isn't funny, that's how I see it anyway. Luckily Morris has made me laugh with pretty much everything he has tried his hand at.

So it wasn't all that much of a surprise when it was announced that his feature film debut was going to be about jihad suicide bombers. Typical Chris I thought, although for the first time I did wonder if maybe it was a step too far. I mean just how much comedy is there to wring out of such a touchy subject? Stacks is the simple answer. Morris along with writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (the pair behind the ever excellent Peep Show), have constructed a funny, satirical and dark gem of a film, that is easily one of the better British films of last year. As always with Morris it's verbally amazing, he never fails to awe me with the pure quality of his dialogue.

We follow a band of hapless wannabe suicide bombers through the ups and downs of trying to get their message across to a hostile world. What that message is, and how to convey it is something they can't quite agree on, it's from this premise that the majority of the laughs come. Lesser writers might have made them caricatures, but in this film they are fully fleshed out and we spend the whole film with them. So no cutting away to the police or any of the enemies of Islam. It's a brilliant move since having to spend ninety minutes with the cretins is helped by the fact that we see them bumbling along, unable to agree on what they are doing. It feels much more realistic then one would expect, and is totally in keeping with the current wave of British TV comedy at the moment. This could so easily have been about the BNP or some other extremist group, not once did I feel that the film crossed the line and become racist. Extra points for great casting, with the exception of Kayvan Novak (TV's Face/FoneJacker), I hadn't heard of any of them. The sad thing is that I'll be surprised if I see any of them in anything ever again, this happens with British films all the time. We have the talent but not a big enough film industry, so of course people drift into television and end up in Eastenders for the rest of their career. Ho hum.

Anyway the film is shot mainly handheld, and rather cleverly as the film progresses the camerawork becomes increasingly surveillance like. The only real downside to Four Lions (and this is something that happens in most comedy features), is that for the last twenty minutes or so the drama comes to the fore, and the comedy takes a back seat. As I say though that happens with most comedies, so it does feel wrong to single this out more than any other film. Big ups to Warp for stumping up the money for what after all could have been a film that would never have got a screening, and sat on a shelf for the rest of time. Luckily that didn't happen. What will Morris do next? God alone knows, but you can be sure it'll be worth the wait.

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