Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Four Lions

Chris Morris, 2010

For the longest time I thought "spoof" and "satire" were interchangeable, taking me well into my 20s before I came to understand the distinction. While the former tends to be frivolous and lighthearted, satire typically abandons humor for bite, working on a more conceptual and intellectual level. A spoof's purpose is to gently poke fun at something, almost in tribute (versus a parody or lampoon, which are mocking instead). Satire, on the other hand, actually has something to say about it's subject, though it can often get lost in the maze of metaphor.

Four Lions is a biting satire of terrorists, people who blindly take up a cause they don't necessarily believe in, and even more apparently don't understand. It's about a group of young men that don't have much, are torn between worlds, and are looking for something meaningful in their lives, often ignoring the real meaning that they already have. Their planned act of terrorism is born from a foolish ideology, ignorance and a desire to be a part of something, to make their mark. It's not a film universally about Muslim jihadists, per se, but about disenfranchised, lost youth. Here they're not even angry, just in need of something to make them feel important.

Its a heady subject matter, but the film approaches it's uncomfortable topic in the surprising form of a broad, almost slapstick comedy. And it is frequently hilarious.

The characters are built largely of the Three Stooges ilk, a group of men who aren't terribly bright and in way over their heads. Yet there is a heart brought to the characters, and an understanding of who they are and why they're doing what they do, even though they don't seem to realize their own motivations. They have devoted themselves to a cause but are oblivious of what the cause actually is and how their excessive familiarity with and reliance upon western society is at odds with their supposed beliefs. Better yet, "the cause" has rejected them, but they proceed with their folly of a grand terrorist scheme in hopes of making a good impression and being embraced by the cause, albeit posthumously. as martyrs

I can't say the film goes so far as to root for the characters at least not in their objectives, but it certainly casts them in a sympathetic glow, despite their failed and tragically flawed understanding of their goal.

To make a broad comedy out of a terrorist plot had to be a dicey proposal for any production company (though about what you'd expect from the mind of Chris Morris, perhaps Great Britains' most subversive humorist). Morris taking his hand at directing a feature for the first time pulls off an interesting visual sense, cheap looking, but methodical in its editing between cameras from different angles and sources, like home video cameras, security cameras, and in one instance, a drone bomber plane camera. It's an assured work and Morris seems confident in both the material and the style he's chosen to work with it in.

This one has cult classic written all over it.