Thursday, November 04, 2010

CineCaché #3: Four Lions

(Devin Faraci of Badass Digest/Drafthouse Pictures and writer/director Christopher Morris)

Sooner or later, CineCaché is going to get its feet under it, but this preview of Four Lions was certainly the best-attended yet. Part of this was because it was also promoted by The Boston Underground Film Festival, the tickets were free, and Drafthouse has been working hard to get the word out about this movie. It will be very interesting to see how well this promotional work scales come Friday, when it's released in the top ten or so markets. It's one thing to pack a 200-person theater with the folks on your mailing lists for one screening; getting a broad audience to see your weird film that's showing five times a day is something else.

But, if anyone can do it, it might be the Drafthouse people. As much as I like the Alamo Drafthouse - I'm seriously thinking about going there again next year, perhaps for Fantastic Fest - and think that they're one of the exhibitors that really gets the challenges that today presents in getting people to go to the movies (in short, you have to make your theater a destination worth paying for), they're probably not quite the magical group that enthusiasts often portray them to be, and distribution has clobbered a lot of well-financed, well-meaning people. Evokative Films out of Montreal are doing much the same thing as Drafthouse, and they're asking for help.

I do find it curious that neither the trailers I've seen at the Kendall nor the print that screened at the Brattle has had a Drafthouse vanity card. I suspect that the Alamo Drafthouse brand isn't quite as well-known outside of Texas as you might think from reading film sites on the internet, but it seems like they might want to build their brand early, unless the material in Four Lions is more hot-button than they'd like. As much as it's cool that they're starting with a terrorist comedy, they may not want to be defined by the terrorist comedy.

If there's any justice, they won't be - as audacious as Four Lions is, it's twice as funny. And while I say this in the review itself, it's worth mentioning here, not as a critique of the film, but in terms of its subject matter: Mockery is in many ways the best response to something horrible. Laughing at a thing diminishes its power over you. During his introduction and Q&A, director Christopher Morris talked about how much of what happens in Four Lions came from watching trials or talking to policemen and reporters who had dealt with would-be terrorists - many of them are just not that bright, or able. The messed-up young men far outnumber the masterminds, and in many ways that makes me hate the leaders even more for how they twist the normal frustrations of the young and their faith in a philosophy meant to provide assurance and peace.

Laugh at them. This stuff is ridiculous and should be treated as such.

Four Lions

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché)

Before getting upset at the very existence of terrorist comedy Four Lions, remember one thing: Most criminals are idiots. If they were smart, they'd likely be putting their talents to use doing something much more lucrative with much less risk of injury and/or incarceration. This applies to heinous as well as petty crimes, perhaps even more so, as using the clever ones to deliver a suicide bomb is not great use of resources. The guys stumbling through this movie are definitely not the smart ones, but they are hilariously dim.

Omar (Riz Ahmed) isn't quite so dim as the others. Of Pakistani descent and living in the north of England with his supportive wife Sophia (Preeya Kalidas) and son Mahmood (Mohammad Aqil), it's not clear why he's dedicated to jihad, but he is. He and his friend Waj (Kayvan Novak) go to Pakistan for training, which doesn't go well, and when the come back, the other members of his cell have been busy - Fessal (Adeel Akhtar) has obtained the raw materials for homemade bombs, and Barry (Nigel Lindsay) has recruited a new member to their cause, Hassan (Arsher Ali). They're about to get serious, even though they really shouldn't be crossing the street unattended, let alone working with explosives.

This leads to some dark, dark comedy, although perhaps not all that much darker than British comedies from Kind Hearts and Coronets to A Fish Called Wanda. The often-morbid slapstick complements some occasional sharp satire and points worth pondering - such as the contrast between Omar and his peaceful brother Ahmed (Wasim Zakir), who is nevertheless far more observant of the Sharia traditions. It's not completely nihilistic humor - while director Christopher Morris and his three co-writers get the audience to laugh at some terrible things, they never lose sight that what these guys are doing is as potentially tragic as it is absurd.

Full review at EFC.

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