Full disclosure: A friend of mine was one of the producers on 'Four Lions'. While this might put me in the awkward position of having to judge the work of someone I know, I'll point out a few mitigating factors. First, this person was not writer/director Chris Morris or any of the other writers on the film, just a producer. In fact, other than this movie, I have no familiarity at all with Morris' prior career in British radio or television. Also, we're casual internet friends; he's not my BFF since childhood or anything. I think he'll forgive me if I don't give the movie a perfect 5-star score and say that it's the greatest work of fiction in human history (which I haven't and won't). He's probably not going to read this, anyway. I'll be honest that I didn't even go see the movie when it played in theaters. This Blu-ray is my first time watching it. I think I can manage to be impartial here.
'Four Lions' is the controversial tale of a small sect of Islamic jihadists plotting a suicide bombing mission in London. The entire story is told from the terrorists' perspective. We see them live and work, and interact with normal people in their everyday lives, all the while they plan the mass murder of hundreds of innocents. We meet their families and their unsuspecting friends. We follow two of them to a terror training camp in Pakistan. We watch them recruit new members, gather materials for their bombs, and select their targets. The movie lets us know these characters not just as faceless evil terrorists, but as real people with thoughts and feelings and conflicted emotions, who nonetheless believe in their cause and the righteousness of their actions so strongly that they will willingly sacrifice their own lives.
Have I mentioned yet that the movie is a goofy slapstick comedy? That part might be important too.
Director Chris Morris is neither an Islamic jihadist himself nor a terrorist sympathizer of any sort. He's a satirist. The characters he's created are complete bumbling idiots who have no idea what they're doing, follow an ideology that's muddled at best, and spectacularly wash out in their attempts to join an official terror-based organization. When stumped for ideas on exactly what their target should be, one suggests that they blow up a chemist (drug store), because: "They sell condoms that make you want to bang white girls." Evil geniuses, these are not.
Omar, the leader, is the most sensible of the group, but even he would have a hard time telling you why he wants to blow himself up in a crowd of people. That just seems like the sort of thing he's supposed to do. Omar is the Moe to these Stooges. His attempts to apply logic or strategy to their plans are constantly undermined by the staggering incompetence of hot-headed Barry (the only white member, and also the most vehemently radicalized), slow-witted Waj, even slower-witted Faisal, and Hassan the wannabe rapper who thinks that terrorists are the new gangstas.
(For those of you doing the math: Yes, there is a reason why I just listed five names for these "Four Lions.")
The film is a scathingly satirical farce grounded in some rather grim realism. I'd have to say that most of the movie is more amusingly clever than actually hilarious, but director Morris commits to his concept and sees it through an escalating series of absurdities that certainly deserve credit for their audaciousness. This is a dark comedy with an emphasis on dark. The movie has a very perverse sense of humor, and goes to some twisted places.
Yet, in the midst of everything, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the story is the way that Omar's loving wife and son, who otherwise seem very Westernized and moderate and level-headed, are so supportive of his cause. At a low moment, just when he's ready to throw in the towel and give up his dreams of being a martyr, Omar's wife Sophia tells him, "You were much more fun when you were gonna blow yourself up, love." Her inspirational talk rallies his spirits enough to put him back on the path to mass murder. The moment is both funny and absolutely terrifying. At its best, the movie treads that delicate tightrope between the two extremes and mines even horrific circumstances for uncomfortable humor.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Four Lions' has been released on Blu-ray by Magnolia Home Entertainment as part of the studio's Magnet label. The disc has been burdened with several obnoxious forced trailers before the main menu, and its package art is plastered with the word "Funny" repeated no less than twenty times in quotes from such dubious sources as Michael Medved and Ain't It Cool News.
'Four Lions' was shot on digital video and makes no effort to mask that fact. The movie has the production values and stylistic appearance less like a feature film and more like a typical British TV series. In general, the 1.85:1 image is bright, sharp, and colorful. However, the picture is also rather flat and looks "video"-ish throughout. Black levels are elevated, and dark scenes are often very noisy.
Some portions of the movie were also shot in either cruddy standard-def video or muddy night vision for effect.
None of this is the fault of the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 Blu-ray transfer, per se. I doubt that the compression onto a single-layer BD-25 disc matters in the slightest bit, either. This isn't particularly challenging material to master. This is just the style the movie was shot in. It makes no pretense of being a glossy big-budget production. To be honest, the appearance suits the content fairly well.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is also perfectly acceptable for what the movie is. The soundtrack is mostly dialogue, which is always reproduced with very good clarity, even though many of the characters speak in thick accents. (I still found it helpful to turn on subtitles during a few scenes anyway.) Music is surprisingly robust and bassy. Though infrequent, various points in the movie have loud sound effects and aggressive surround activity, which also come across pretty well.
The majority of the movie's dialogue is spoken in English. However, selected scenes and lines of dialogue switch to Urdu with English subtitle translation. Annoyingly, the subtitles sometimes appear as plain white text, but other times appear Closed Caption-style in a transparent box. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for why or when this happens. (The normal subtitles would be just as legible.)
The Blu-ray shares all of its bonus features in common with the simultaneous DVD release.
'Four Lions' is a pretty ballsy black comedy that tackles a controversial subject and isn't afraid to take it to some dark places. It's a funny movie, though perhaps sometimes more conceptually funny than gut-bustingly hilarious. The Blu-ray looks and sounds just fine, but bonus features are kind of light. The movie and disc are worth checking out.