We will not lie to you: when Chris Morris got up to address the small audience before last week’s screening of Four Lions, his brilliant new comedy about a cell of hapless British jihadis planning a terrorist outrage, we experienced a tangible buzz of excitement. After so long away, the great enigma of British comedy was back in business.
As Lucian Randall’s in-depth profile shows in the current issue of Esquire, The Day Today and Brass Eye legend inspires significant levels of expectation from his loyal army of fans. And the good news is that Four Lions will not leave them disappointed.
This film is a very different proposition from much of what we know and love Morris for. Nuanced, extensively researched and with bags of heart, it's as much a blackly comic study in how, if left to their own devices, four men will conspire to fuck things up as it is a searing indictment of Islamic extremism. It’s extremely funny in places – as you would expect – but also touching and thought provoking and, ultimately, rather sad. What it most definitely isn't is shallow or cheap.
Four Lions is a sophisticated, rather brilliant satire of the confused, mired position we currently find ourselves in with regard to the ‘War on Terror’. As Morris was keen to point out on the night, the film is neither pro or anti-religious and during three years of research he spoke to people on all points of the spectrum, from terrorism experts, imams and police officers to members of the secret service and hundreds of ordinary Muslims.
He reveals that, ‘Even those who have trained and fought jihad report the frequency of farce. On millennium eve, five jihadis planned to ram a US warship with a launch full of bombs. In the dead of night they slipped their boat into the water. They stacked it with explosives. They stepped in. It sank. Terrorist cells have the same group dynamics as stag parties and five-a-side football teams. There is conflict, friendship, misunderstanding and rivalry. Terrorism is about ideology, but it’s also about berks."
You might ask: where is the joke in terror? “Actually,” says Morris, “as Four Lions will demonstrate, it’s staring you right in the face. At training camps young jihadis argue about honey, shoot each other’s feet off, chase snakes and get thrown out for smoking. When 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta was teased for pissing too loudly, he blamed the Jews for making thin bathroom doors. A minute into his martyrdom video, a would-be bomber grinds to a halt and asks the cameraman, ‘what was the question again?’. Terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohamed spends two hours looking for a costume that won’t make him look fat on camera.”
On the evidence of Four Lions – a film that stays with you for some time afterwards, Morris’ antenna remains as finely tuned as ever. But this is a film that surely represents something else: a new beginning for one of the sharpest minds of his generation. We couldn’t be more thrilled at the prospect of what's to come.
Four Lions is out on 7 May (not April as stated at the time of the April issue going to print)