Sundance 2010: ‘Four Lions’ is scary funny


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One of the big surprises out of last year’s Sundance Film Festival was ‘In The Loop,’ a riotous take on international politics that went on to modest success at the box office. This year, the upstart political comedy slot is occupied by ‘Four Lions,’ directed and co-written by Chris Morris, a former collaborator with ‘In the Loop’ director Armando Iannucci and creator of the popular British television parody program ‘Brass Eye.’

Because of its controversial storyline, ‘Four Lions’ has become something of a hot potato among buyers at Sundance -- no one seems to want to take on the presumed trouble likely to follow in its wake.


‘Four Lions’ concerns a cell of four bumbling, would-be Islamic jihadists in a sleepy English suburb. Like a workplace comedy or riff on dysfunctional families, they bicker and complain, argue and reconcile, all the while plotting a bomb attack. While what they are planning is deadly serious, the haphazard way they go about it is seriously funny.

Before a screening this morning it was announced that Morris was already on his way back to England and didn’t suggest anyone else would be available from the film to take questions. As the film’s credits began, the audience mostly filed for the exits assuming there would be no Q&A. Once the theater was largely emptied out, though, it was announced that co-writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain were in attendance and would be taking questions.

They answered the first question by deferring to the absent Morris, saying it was very much his film, and that while the structure of the film was tightly scripted, the film itself was a mix of scripted lines and improvisations from the actors.

While noting that it was the idea of attacking taboos that inspired Morris and that they felt a certain freedom in making a film that flirted with things some people might feel they simply shouldn’t do, Bain added, ‘My hope is that it’s foremost a comedy.’

‘Obviously, I don’t want to be killed,’ responded Armstrong to a question as to whether they feared reprisals for the film could mirror the uprisings against a Dutch cartoonist who drew panels alleged to be anti-Islam. ‘Although I figure the director would be first.’

-- Mark Olsen