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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Four Lions

March 13th, 2011

Four Lions - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Four Lions is a black comedy about Islamic terrorists. I'm not surprised it had trouble finding a distributor here. In fact, I'm a little surprised it did as well as it did in limited release earning just over $300,000. Obviously, given the subject matter, this is not a film for everyone. But will it at least appeal to those who enjoy British humor? Or is it too out there even for that niche market?

The Movie

The film starts with a group of four men recording a video warning people of their intentions to attack the U.K. for its decadent capitalistic lifestyle. I think. I think one of them mentions something about Churchill, while it's hard to understand the guy with the box on his head. Two of the group, Omar and Waj, are about to head to Pakistan for intensive training, but they are clearly not ready for the big leagues, especially Waj. In fact, none of them are. Barry, the white guy, is a recently converted, but highly, highly dedicated Muslim. He's also a bit crazy, with what can be described as angry management issues. Faisal rounds out the foursome. He takes after his father, which is a problem, as his father's a little crazy as well, but in an eating newspaper way and not a fly into a storm of rage kind of way like Barry is.

Training in Pakistan doesn't go as poorly as Barry thinks it will, but it still ends without them ingratiating themselves with Al Qaeda, like they had hoped. Meanwhile back in the U.K., Barry has recruited Hassan into their group and has come up with a brilliant plan. They will bomb a mosque. They will bomb a mosque dressed as infidels in order to rile up the moderate Muslims and bring about a holy war. Omar wisely nixes that plan and instead decides to attack the London Marathon. In order to hide their bombs, they'll have to wear costumes, like a man riding an ostrich. It's a slightly better plan, but given how incompetent these people are, there's no way its going off without a hitch. It's just a matter of will calmer heads prevail before innocent people get hurt.

This is a movie that probably couldn't get made here. At times it's very slapstick in its comedy and there are always laughs to be found when dealing with people who are just not very good at their jobs. This is true even when the audience doesn't want them to be good. But, it is also incredibly dark in its humor, including the deaths of several people, innocent or otherwise. And sometimes the movie even forgoes humor entirely. (The ending / epilogue is particularly effective in this manner.)

The characters are perhaps a tad underdeveloped with only Omar coming across as fully fleshed out. Waj, whom we spend the second most time with, is also quite compelling, but his prime characteristic, his lack of intellectual prowess, sometimes overwhelms everything else about him. Likewise, Barry is little more than rage and self-importance and we really don't get to know Faisal or Hassan. Because of this, some of the humor or the satire doesn't quite have the impact it would otherwise have, but it is still a great film.

Also be warned, there are a few times when the mood flips from slapstick to deadly serious so quickly that it is jarring. Sometimes this can be a real issue for a film. I think it works here, but not everyone will agree.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include a short interview with the cast and crew at the Bradford Film Festival. It's only four minutes long, but worth checking out. There are also several behind-the-scenes clips of scenes being made. There are several deleted / alternative scenes, as well as a storyboard for one of the scenes. Finally, there's a very interesting featurette about real life South Asians living in England and an interview with a young Muslim arrested under suspicion of terrorism.

I don't have the Blu-ray to compare. The list price is only 10% more, but on the DVD is deeply discounted so the price difference is $10, or almost 100% more. That's too much to ask without knowing if there are any Blu-ray exclusives or not.

The Verdict

Four Lions is not for everyone, but those who like it will definitely want to spend the $11 to grab the DVD. That's a great price. ($21 isn't bad for the Blu-ray.) On the other hand, because it has a limited target audience, I would recommend starting with a rental.

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Filed under: Video Review, Four Lions