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Film / Four Lions

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"Rubber dinghy rapids, bro!"

Four Lions is the debut feature film directed by Chris Morris, and written by Morris in collaboration with Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain of Peep Show fame.

It's a comedy of the type where a bunch of ordinary blokes, none of them the very sharpest of minds, take on a task bigger than themselves. Similar to The Full Monty, in a funny way. Except that they want to be Islamist suicide bombers.

Riz Ahmed stars as Omar, the smartest (but still not-that-smart) of the gang of dim-witted wannabe terrorists. Kayvan Novak plays his cousin Waj, Nigel Lindsay plays Barry, a white English convert, and Adeel Akhtar plays Faisal, a naive animal trainer. Benedict Cumberbatch has a small but amusing role near the end as a hostage negotiatior.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actual Pacifist: Omar's fundamentalist Muslim brother Ahmed tries to talk him out of doing violence, which he rightly suspects he's planning. Naturally, the authorities see him as the terrorist mastermind behind it and are threatening him with torture at the end. Ahmed seems to be a more fundamentalist Muslim than Omar, ironically, refusing to enter the same room with Omar's wife and in Islamic garb everywhere he goes, whereas Omar wears Western-style clothes. He explicitly argues that fundamentalist interpretations of Islam prohibit the violence Omar wants to commit, averting the usual depictions. Truth in Television for Islamic fundamentalists who oppose terrorism.
  • Ad Lib: Most noticeably is Waj's "Fuck Mini Babybels" line that was added on the spot by Kayvan Novak.
  • Affably Evil: All of the main characters - except the Ax-Crazy Barry.
  • AM/FM Characterization: The only song Omar, Waj, and Hassan are seen enjoying is Toploader's "Dancing in the Moonlight", which shows their hypocrisy with hating Western culture and provides some Lyrical Dissonance when they are on their way to blowing up a marathon. Barry, on the other hand, doesn't sing along when the others are.
  • Angrish:
    • We also get an impressive stint of angry Urdu: "these useless fuck-my-auntie-from-a-standing-position pyjama-wearing cockerel dicks!"
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Repressed homosexuality is a rather plausible explanation for Barry's character, given his bizarre "initiation ritual" with Hassan (which involves shoving a baked bean up his penis) and forcing Waj to urinate into his own mouth. Indeed, it is probable that he turned to fundamentalist Islam because it lets him fight against the society that he secretly wishes he was part of.
  • Anti-Villain: Just over half of the Lions are (somewhat) sympathetic characters who've been misled into an evil cause. Waj and Faisal are Kind-hearted Simpletons who don't really want to hurt anyone but don't fully grasp what it is they're doing either. Hassan is a clearer example as unlike the others, he realizes the gravity of the situation and tries to opt out. It doesn't end well. The subversions are Omar, who sincerely loves his wife and son but still masterminds a terror attack on hundreds of innocent marathon runners, and Barry, who is unstable, antisemetic and cruel and only took up the cause to voice his radicalism and act on his own sadism.
  • Ax-Crazy: Barry is clearly not very stable, and one gets the impression that he's turned to radical Islam largely because it gives him an excuse to be violent. Word of God is that he was originally in the BNP and once decided to read the Qu'ran to "better know his enemy", only to discover that Wahhabist/Salafist Islam was more appealing to him than white nationalism.
  • Baa-Bomb: "One sheep was blown up in the making of this film."
  • Bait-and-Switch: In one scene, it looks like the four would-be terrorists are about to get arrested. The police storm in and arrest Ahmed instead.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Inverted. Omar's brother Ahmed is a very conservative Muslim, who refuses to talk to non-related women and wears religious garb even when playing soccer. Omar cares about Islam more as a a cultural identity than as a religion, lives an outwardly normal English suburban life, and treats his wife as his equal. But Ahmed is the nonviolent one, and he tries to persuade Omar that attacking civilians is immoral.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Omar frequently swears in Urdu.
  • Black Comedy: The blackest.
  • Bland-Name Product: The jihadists coordinate online through a children's browser game called Puffin Party.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • "That bag's full of... really fragile... boots."
    • The lions claiming to be a bunch of gay men instead of terrorists
  • Bloody Hilarious: Faisal and the sheep end up in a binbag.
  • Brick Joke:
    • At the training camp, Waj and Omar try to use a rocket launcher to destroy a UAV, only for it to fire backwards. During the very end of the movie, we find out they took out Osama bin Laden—this was a year before he actually was killed.
    • Early on, Omar scoffs at Faisal's plan to blow up a chemist's (for Americans, a pharmacy). Guess what he ends up blowing up at the end of the movie?
  • Brits Love Tea: When Ahmed is arrested after a police raid, Ahmed's wife is seen enjoying a cup of tea in the closet.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": A policeman refers to Omar's Honey Monster costume as a "bear"... leading to his colleague shooting a fellow runner in a Chewbacca costume instead. There then follows a heated argument between the policemen about whether either Wookiees or the Honey Monster can be considered bears.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Rather, Chekhov's Obnoxious Habit. Barry displays early on his tendency to eat inedible objects, either when he can't get his way or as part of his idiotic self-flagellation obsession (otherwise involving beans or urine). His final act is attempting to swallow a SIM card to stop Omar from saving Waj's life, only to choke on it, causing a stranger to intervene and ultimately trigger his bomb accidentally.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Alice.
    "I used to be in a band... until all the birds fell off the roof."
  • Cluster F-Bomb: There's a lot of swearing in general, but Omar's Urdu rants are a particular highlight.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Omar is riding a tram when he hears a news broadcast about Faisal's head being discovered through its televisions.
  • Cower Power: Malcolm Storge MP hiding under the table when a would-be suicide bomber threatens an attack.
  • Crapsack World: The Downer Ending emphasizes this. Omar's Actual Pacifist brother gets treated as a terrorist, an innocent runner is killed by the police, and they remain adamant that he wasn't one. Crapsack through incompetence and implied prejudice.
  • Credits Gag: "One sheep was blown up during the making of this film." (It wasn't.)
  • Culturally Religious: Omar cares about his Muslim identity enough to form a terrorist cell, but he doesn't actually live a pious life. From day to day he basically lives as an assimilated British person.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Omar tells his wife that his group is about to perform their suicide bombing by saying that he's "taking his team up to the top floor." He has to say it this way because he's in public, within earshot of police.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: This is a big part of Hassan's motivation for becoming a jihadist, given that a quick scene where he acts out an argument in his head shows he's not interested in the family business and struggling academically. This is actually a fairly common factor in people getting recruited by cults or extremist movements.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Hassan, when convinced by Barry to "do something for Islam", jumps at the chance. He realises what he's signed up to too late and attempts to turn himself in. Sadly, Barry doesn't let him.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: "It is not a cupboard! It is a small room."
  • Double Meaning:
    • The Lions refer to each other as 'bro' constantly, and this serves both as a deep acknowledgment of their ties as Jihadists... and as a general, modern, completely vernacular form of Anglophone address.
    • When they're at the van suiting up before the marathon, a cop comes up and says "you're gonna die in those suits" to which Omar replies "Probably. It's all for a good cause."
  • Downer Ending: Being a satire with a pitch-black sense of humor, this is a given. All the Lions are dead, but this includes Omar and Waj, the most sympathetic Lions, with the former about to call off the plot and turn himself in to the cops, and the latter too stupid to comprehend half of what was even going on. Two innocent people died at the hands of the police, and Omar's innocent, peace-loving brother is framed for the attacks and sent to what is heavily implied to be a Torture Cellar. But on the bright side, Osama bin Laden is dead, too.
  • Driven to Suicide: Omar was always intending to kill himself, obviously, but he had been about to change his mind and turn himself in... then the police indirectly kill Waj, and he changes his mind back out of grief.
  • Dumb Muscle: Waj. Noticeably bigger than his cohorts, manhandles on Omar's command, one functioning brain cell.
  • Epic Fail: But their fail is our win.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Played with bizarrely—Omar is heading a terrorist plot to kill who-knows-how-many innocent people, but he still tries to take the moral high ground over his brother for "locking women in a cupboard." He also, a lot more understandably, reacts like this to Barry's plans to blow up a mosque, takes Faisal's untimely death due to their screw-ups very harshly and derides the others for their carelessness that got him killed and is ultimately unwilling to manipulate Waj into blowing himself up when he demonstrates having changed his mind.
    • Also, Omar doesn't agree with Barry's blatant antisemitism and calls him out for it more than once.
    • Everyone, even Barry, is ashamed when they accidentally get Faisal killed.
    • All of them are disturbed when they hear about Barry's creepy "initiation rituals" and Omar insists that they don't do those things.
  • False Flag Operation: Barry intends to carry one out by bombing a mosque while posing as kuffar, in hopes of radicalizing moderate Muslims and causing them to rise up in protest. He then records a video in which he identifies himself as a Muslim and takes credit for the bombing of the mosque.
  • Faux Yay: "We've gotta get down to some gay business now." They're not.
  • Foreshadowing: Barry eating his SIM card, Faisal talking about blowing up a pharmacy.
  • The Fundamentalist: Only two characters are actually fundamentalists—Barry and Ahmed, although Barry is hypocritical and lies when pointed out. Omar at most is just a really bitter Cultural Muslim, and the rest of the Lions kind of just do what people tell them to do.
  • Gratuitous English: The training camp militant speaks in Arabic but randomly throws in bits of English when he's chewing out Omar and Waj, such as when Waj shoots his Kalashnikov in the air, and his long rant mentions "James fuck Bond!"
  • Had the Silly Thing in Reverse: Omar tries to shoot down a drone with a rocket launcher...except he has it pointed backwards. He winds up killing most of the terrorists he and Waj went to Pakistan to train with.
  • Harmless Villain: Poor old Faisal never seems all that interested in actual terrorism, even if he were interested he would be too incompetent to do any harm, and he's downright sheepish at the thought of blowing himself up.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Hassan bottles it at the last second and tries to turn himself into the police, but Barry has other plans and detonates his bomb.
  • Heel Realization: Barry's murder of Hassan seems to cause Omar to have one of this, as he realizes that he's manipulated poor dumb Waj into joining their plot. He tries to save Waj, but to no avail.
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Barry's justification for Jihad.
    "Islam is cracking up! We got women talking back! We got people playing stringed instruments! It's the end of days."
  • Hypocritical Humour:
    • Omar rails against western culture, saying that it's obsessed with technology, escapism and other nonsense. However, the jihadists all make repeated references to how much they enjoy things like Xbox video games, English theme parks, Disney films, and even Rambo.
    • The jihadists are all determined to kill unbelievers, but Barry starts insisting that they target a mosque and blame it on unbelievers, hoping this will radicalize moderate Muslims. Later, Waj holds a restaurant full of Muslims hostage. One of them even points out that Waj's bomb won't kill any unbelievers.
    • The jihadists all think of themselves as champions of Islam, when none of them seem to be particularly religious. Hassan admits that he rarely goes to mosque, and Barry outright states that it's a waste of time, since he sees everyone in there as idiots and sellouts. Waj doesn't understand the distinction between facing East and facing Mecca to pray (the training camp is in Pakistan and he insists on facing East to pray, instead of Mecca, which is west of them). Omar's family is much less conservative than his deeply religious brother, and they laugh off his religious arguments. Even Faisal, the most devout of the group, is only obeying laws that his father tells him to obey (and his father is crazy).
  • I Have This Friend: In this case Omar's friend is called Simba.
  • Initiation Ceremony: Barry makes Hassan insert a bean into his penis and Waj piss into his own mouth.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Both Faisal and Waj get this treatment, with the former being a simple, slow and well-meaning person who doesn't really grasp what he's getting into. The fact that he dies first only makes him all the more pitiable. Waj is depicted as extremely gullible and dumb and a constant screw-up who also doesn't really understand what he's doing and seems to genuinely think he's doing the right thing because Omar and Barry say he is. When he blows himself up in a bout of confusion, it's treated very somberly and Omar is genuinely devastated and ashamed he allowed Waj to believe his lies.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Many examples. But Barry, with his blatant hypocrisy, fundamentalism and refusal to hold himself accountable for anything, provides most of it.
    • Barry suggests bombing a mosque to radicalize the moderates and incite revolution. Omar likens it to punching yourself in a street fight. Barry counters that you could punch yourself in the face to make yourself "go mental" and win the fight. Omar goads him into trying it, and Barry hits himself in the nose. Omar then mocks him for wiping the blood away, as this represents the jihadists that would be inspired by the mosque bombing, and he's wiping out the revolution...
    • Barry starts recording a video taking credit for the planned bombing of a mosque that he intends to blame on unbelievers.
    • Barry asserts, "You cannot win an argument just by being right." Even Waj points out the lack of logic in that one.
    • When a police sniper tells his partner that the person in a Wookie costume he shot wasn't the target, the second sniper responds, "It must have been the target, I just shot it." (with the same logic repeated by Malcolm Storge MP when defending the police and the government's failure to prevent the attack at the end of the film: "The police shot the right man, but, as far as I'm aware, the wrong man exploded.")
    • When Barry's car breaks down, he blames "Jewish spark plugs", on the basis that "Jews invented spark plugs to control global traffic!"
    • In order to convince Faisal to bomb the mosque, Barry (notice a theme, here?) asks if his father has ever bought a Jaffa orange. When Faisal answers in the affirmative, Barry says "Right, he's buying nukes for Israel, bro, he's a Jew."
    • Omar trying to convince Waj that what his heart is saying is actually Shaitan trying to convince him to do what his brain is confusing him into. Making his heart (metaphorically) his brain. Or something...
  • Jerkass: Barry. The others get a few Pet the Dog moments and generally seem to not quite understand the implications of what they're planning on doing, but Barry is just a terrible person from the word go.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Barry eats Omar's SIM card to stop him from talking Waj out of the bombing, only to start choking to death on the card, resulting in a random passerby trying to perform the Heimlich maneuver on him and setting off his bombs.
  • Laughably Evil: If any of them did anything remotely intelligent, the movie would have a far different tone. Luckily, all of them are too stupid, incompetent and downright misguided (or in Barry's case delusional, racist and violent) to actually achieve anything. This makes their futile attempts at being Jihadists and hardened terrorists extremely funny and endlessly entertaining, especially Barry with his Insane Troll Logic and (often unprompted) antisemetic tirades. Even Omar, the most logical and sane of the group, is still a blundering failure who's not only cleaning up their messes, but trying and failing to hatch an effective plan without anyone catching on. This was actually the intention of the filmmakers, as they wanted to show the audience just how ineffective many recruits of this sort of terrorism actually are (and in this movie it's both genuinely sad and Played for Laughs).
  • Losing Your Head: Faisal, literally and metaphorically; Hassan fails to clean up the Ludicrous Gibs properly and Faisal's head is found by the police.
    "I told you... it was a knee!"
    "That was a head! It was obviously a head!"
    "It had a hinge!"
  • Manchild: Waj brings a toy gun to the shooting of his Jihad video, reads children's books, and his conception of the afterlife is that of a theme park ride. To a smaller degree, the rest of the protagonists are all crushingly naive. Conversely, Omar's son is shown to be pretty sharp when Omar tries to justify suicide bombing by way of The Lion King (1994).
  • Martyrdom Culture: Deconstructed, with idiocy.
    "He'll be in heaven before his head hits the ceiling!"
  • Mirroring Factions: An implied example. In an interview, Morris revealed that Barry was based on a real-life person who was originally a member of the BNP but who decided to study the Qu'ran to be better able to attack Muslims, only to end up accidentally converting himself and becoming a key face of Islamic fundamentalism. While Barry's similar past is only subtly alluded to (it most obviously coming out in his suspicious eagerness to blow up mosque, implying he hasn't entirely abandoned his former prejudices), this backstory establishes a clear parallel between white nationalist terrorism and Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.
  • Mistaken for Gay: How they get rid of Alice, who apparently doesn't like gay people.
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: Played with several times.
  • Mood Dissonance: Every other scene.
  • Mood Whiplash: Many times—it's by Chris Morris, fer chrissakes.
  • The Neidermeyer: Barry.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The poor unwitting first-aider who comes to Barry's aid, and the police who burst in just in time to distract Waj from Omar's order to give himself up peacefully.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: An attempt to take out a US UAV ends up killing Osama Bin Laden.
  • Nitro Express: The five wannabe mujahideen have to transport home-made explosives. They try to drive carefully, but hit a tree. They then have to do a very silly run the rest of the way.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: None except the Baa-Bomb.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The film is called Four Lions, but there are five main jihadists in the film. One doesn't make it to the Title Drop, however.
  • Noodle Implements: *pulls out a weetabix*: "We know a lot more than you think!"
  • Oh, Crap!: Two of the three lions present who witness Faisal's death. The other is too stupid to immediately comprehend what's happened.
  • Oop North: Set and filmed mostly in Sheffield. Omar works as a security guard at Meadowhall. The hospital scene is the main entrance of the Northern General Hospital.
  • Only Sane Man: Omar. And he's not especially bright.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: The end credits include a disclaimer stating that the London Marathon did not co-operate in the making of the film (the Marathon scenes were filmed in Sheffield).
  • Painful Rhyme: During his fake suicide bombing at the debate, Hassan raps a few verses in which he rhymes "martyrs" with "tomatoes". In the end credits, we get an even worse one: "Got shaheed in my heed for my creed I da-heed." Waj even asks what he's talking about and Hassan has to explain that "da-heed" is died.
  • Played for Laughs: Stupid idiots killing themselves for a cause they don't understand? Innocent civilians being murdered? Cruelty to sheep? Check, check and check.
  • Police Are Useless: They attack and arrest Omar's peace-loving brother in the middle of a meeting with his Muslim friends whilst Omar is stuffing nitroglycerin into a Honey Monster outfit, they shoot an innocent marathon runner dressed as Chewbacca and after a naive negotiator (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) completely flubs the Waj hostage situation, they break in and shoot his hostage, meaning that two entirely innocent people were killed directly by police incompetence.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The negotiator tries to make small talk with Waj and asks Waj if he's an "ass man" (meaning does he find butts more arousing than boobs) but Waj misunderstands it as an insult, thinking he's being called "Ass-Man", and gets angry, breaking down the negotiations.
  • Quote Mine: Intentionally exaggerated with some of the movie posters. Instead of the usual three-word out-of-context reviews from each of the main national papers, they just show the word "Funny" about seven fifteen times.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: A recurring criticism of the film is that the portrayal of Omar's family as loving, stable and westernized is an unconvincing, heavy-handed attempt to humanize a would-be suicide bomber. Morris has pointed out that this aspect of his character actually has a basis in a number of real life terrorists.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Explored inside-out in hilarious/shocking fashion.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The sequence with the police shooting the wrong person at the marathon reminded some viewers of the controversy over the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes.
    • Hassan Malik's name may be a particularly dark one to Nidal Malik Hasan, who was responsible for the 2009 Ft. Hood shooting.
  • Shown Their Work: In an interview with NPR Chris Morris stated the film was based on research he'd done after 9/11 that led him to believe many would-be terrorists are completely incompetent. He claimed that the 'bomb the mosque' scene is taken verbatim from an MI 5 surveillance transcript.
  • Somebody Set Up Us the Bomb: Literally, and delivered in person.
  • Spoiler Title: Four Lions is a movie about a gang of five wannabe Jihadists. It's not exactly a surprise when one of them doesn't make it to the attack.
  • Stupid Crooks: Stupid terrorists, in this instance.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Omar. Although he's not exactly the sharpest nail in the bag either.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: Waj's response to being asked what his demands are by a police negotiator—"...I don't have any."
  • Title Drop: At the beginning of the final act. Omar proclaims their gang "Four lions!" as he seeks to psych them up for the mission.
  • Token White: Barry.
  • Too Dumb to Live: All of the conspirators are this to some degree. Waj's last words end up being a sort of admission of this.
  • Torture Cellar: Ahmed's ultimate destination.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Faisal is seen blowing himself up in the trailer, and he's missing from promotional art material.
    • Made worse by the Spoiler Title: With the name Four Lions and there being five members of the gang, it's pretty easy to figure out one of them will die, especially when they start stupidly playing with explosives.
  • Undignified Death: Practically all of them.
  • Villain Protagonist: The Lions themselves, as a sympathetic portrayal of Jihadists.
  • Windmill Crusader: The Lions claim that they are trying to defend Islam from western oppression and tyranny, but while they might have a shred of a point in a broader structural and geo-political sense, it's quite telling that pretty much all the non-Muslim characters who they know or encounter are perfectly decent and respectful towards them, and we never see them directly face any kind of injustice or intolerance due to their ethnicity or religious beliefs.
  • Women Are Wiser: Zig-Zagged. Omar's wife seems like a down-to-earth woman, but as the film progresses, we see that she's completely onboard with Omar's plan to kill himself, and doesn't seem to have the slightest problem with him leaving her a widow with a young son. Critics found this to be unrealistic, but the filmmakers asserted that real terrorists often have remarkably stable home lives.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Lions never refer to themselves or think of themselves as "terrorists" and actually view themselves as holy warriors fighting the evils of Western Imperialism. More often than not, they refer to themselves as "jihadists", which is taken from the translation of the word "jihad" as "struggle". However, other rebel groups that employ similarly violent tactics against British society to achieve their ends, just as the Lions intend to achieve, are still referred to as "terrorists" by the Lions. Specifically, when Faisal mentions his "IRA voice" to Barry, Barry chastises him for using a "terrorist" voice which could blow their cover.


Video Example(s):


Is A Wookiee A Bear?

Discussed trope, after a Wookiee costume is referred to as a "bear", causing a target to be misidentified, the police argue about whether fictional species are bears.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / CallASmeerpARabbit

Media sources: