The main characters of Four Lions are terrorists. Okay, wannabe terrorists -- at the start of the movie, they haven't actually done anything, and aren't receiving orders from anyone, but they certainly have ideas. They're also total idiots. Not just a little slow on the uptake, but utterly and completely moronic, in addition to being morally misguided. So you have to respect a movie that, somewhere in the midst of making fun of them relentlessly, makes you care enough about them that, by the end of the film, you're half-rooting for them to succeed, and when one dies, you're legitimately sad about it.
The group of British Muslims is led by Omar (Riz Ahmed), who longs to be a real jihadist, even as he mocks the more traditional Muslim ways of his brother. His friend Waj (Kayvan Novak) is like a more dim Ali G, and has to look at his own face to see if he's confused. Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) hides his face with a box whenever someone tries to film him, and is training crows to be suicide bombers. And Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is a British convert to Islam who is the most outspoken of them all, and also the most demented. A fifth recruit, Hassan (Arsher Ali) is a terrible rapper, and easily impressed by the foursome's limited knowledge and experience. Together, they are... somehow less dangerous than they would be individually, because arguments, screw-ups and goofing around with explosives is always holding them back from being wholly effective.
But as the film progresses, and the gang try to develop something resembling a plan, you find yourself liking them for their idiocy, and wanting to see them come out on top -- not as successful mass-murderers, which seems less and less likely, but as people who've realized that what they're doing is wrong. Certain characters do start to doubt their path, but others only grow more desperate to make a statement, any statement. Omar, in particular, is incredibly complex, played by Ahmed as the no-nonsense leader, but also a goofball with his wife and son, both of whom support his dream to kill people. He makes fun of Muslim traditions, and has a friendship with his wife that is inspiring even by Western standards, and yet he desperately wants to go to Pakistan to train at a real terrorist camp and then blow himself up.
In fact, all the characters love their Western lifestyles. Waj thinks of Heaven as being like his favorite theme park, Hassan is constantly name-checking Tupac in his raps, and at one point they all sing "Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest. They all want to kill kaffirs (non-believers), but some of them forget that there need to be kaffirs around when they blow themselves up, as if the blowing up is what matters, not the killing. It's funny -- the whole movie is funny -- but it's also sad, because they're too dumb to realize what they're doing is wrong. The strict Muslims try to tell them, and other terrorists shun them, but still they move forward, and they sadly don't need to be smart to be effective. Especially when Britain's security forces have their heads up their asses, as they do here.
With Four Lions, director Chris Morris has done the seemingly impossible, finding comedy and humanity in the terrorist world, and making a suicide bombing into a punchline. The final punchline is admittedly more sad than it is funny, and overly sensitive people may fail to find humor in any of this, but it's still an amazing film. Hopefully it's a step towards de-mystifying and de-glorifying suicide bombings, and not just a guidebook of "what not to do."