Writer-director Chris Morris' new film, Four Lions, is a farce in an unexpected milieu: a terror cell. The film follows the lives of five British-born terrorists as they plan and attempt to execute a suicide bombing. Their efforts (and failures) were inspired by years of research by Morris, who tells us that he became fascinated by the real terrorism stories that struck him as funny. One group of bombers filled a boat with explosives, planning to blow it up alongside a US naval warship. The boat sank while they argued on the dock. Another terrorist was mocked by his compatriots for peeing too loud. He blamed the Jews who manufactured the too-thin bathroom door.
Four Lions was shortlisted for the World Cinema Narrative Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. As a guest on our show, Sundance programmer Trevor Groth told us that while the film was uproariously funny, its greatest achievement was in humanizing the would-be murderers who are its subject. Four Lions enters staged release on November 5th, distributed under the new Drafthouse Films banner.
Morris made his name in the UK and among comedy fans with a series of incisive news satires in the 1990s. The Day Today parodied newscasts with absurd, buffoonish reporters and ridiculous headlines like "Where Now For Man Raised By Puffins?" Steering the ship with utter conviction was Morris behind the anchor desk. The news magazine satire Brass Eye went even further, at one point convincing a Minister of Parliament to introduce a resolution against "cake," a drug that the show had made up out of whole cloth. Morris himself went undercover, asking real street dealers for made-up drugs until they threatened him with violence. Most recently, Morris was a regular on The IT Crowd, created by past Sound of Young America guest Graham Linehan. Another past Sound guest has also been a frequent collaborator: Armando Iannucci, director of In The Loop.
Chris Morris was named #11 in a poll of "comedians' comedians" conducted by the BBC in 2005, finishing one slot behind Richard Pryor, and ahead of comedy legends like Bill Hicks, Peter Sellers and Steve Martin.
One of the best films we saw at Sundance this year was Chris Morris' Four Lions. It's a satirical look at a London-based group of terrorists. UK-born terrorists, specifically. In the Q&A after the film, Morris talked about the sheer idiocy of terrorists he'd read about in his research, and he was unflinching in satirizing the would-be murderers. What's most remarkable about the film, though, is that these horrible, horrible doofuses are also quite human. That's a pretty remarkable achievement in my book.
The movie opens in a couple of cities November 5th, and it spreads across the country from there. Don't miss it.