Four Lions

Four Lions

Is there any subject so serious, so taboo, that it cannot be made into a joke? Before my time, some people thought nuclear war was too abhorrent. Then Dr. Strangelove came along and shattered that thought. My mother once told me she thought child abuse could never be funny, but then admitted to laughing at the tasteless name of a Trivia Bowl team with the name of a prominent child murderer at the time next to the words “Day Care Center”. A recent equivalent might be “Michael Vick’s Doggie Day-Care.”

See? Any subject can be the subject of humor. Take radicalized Islamic suicide bombers... please!

The four lions of the title are would-be suicide bombers intent on finding a suitably inflammatory target in Britain. (They would also make a great comedy troupe a la Broken Lizard or the Reno 911 players.) Riz Ahmed plays Omar, the smart one, whose job is to plan the attack and whose comedic job is to look exasperated at his sidekicks. Nigel Lindsay plays the angry one, Kayvan Novak plays the big lug, and Adeel Akhtar plays the gentle soul. Arsher Ali, playing the fifth lion, a handsome ladykiller, joins later.

The very idea of making a comedy about inept suicide bombers is fraught with peril. Make the attackers too toothless and you miss the point of trying to make risky comedy, too vicious and it’s not funny, too cartoony and it’s insensitive to Muslims.

Director Christopher Morris and his three cowriters strike a good balance. When we first meet the lions, they are shooting a video threat to be posted on the internet. For a few brief moments Four Lions looks like a deadly serious drama about the lives of terrorists. Then Waj (the big lug) picks up a toy replica of an AK-47 and flourishes it at the camera. Soon the lions are bickering about how stupid the toy gun looks, how to make it look tougher using forced perspective, or whether there’s anything on the tape other than bloopers.

Two of them travel to Afghanistan for special training and are sent back home in disgrace. They manage to make some fragile explosives, though having bought their ingredients from the same supplier may have compromised their identities. And they can’t agree on a target; their ideas range from the ridiculous to the sub-optimal.

All of this is played with a completely straight face; there’s no winking at the camera (praise Allah), even when the terrorists dress up in Ostrich-Cowboy costumes to infiltrate their target.

The humor is risky enough and black enough — I’ll say there are several deaths, without saying who or how — that Four Lions will not appeal to all tastes. But if you like black jellybeans, black coffee, and black humor, Four Lions is probably worth your time. Its small budget and homemade feel keep it from being a masterpiece. But it illustrates a maxim I learned from my mother: that there is no subject so taboo that it can’t be made into a joke.

— Marty Mapes, Movie Habit

Four Lions

Thu & Fri February 17 & 18, 2011, 7:00 & 9:00, Muenzinger Auditorium

UK, 2010, Color, 97 min, 35mm, 1.85:1, Rated R • official site



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Mon Dec 11, 2023

Fight Club

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Tue Dec 12, 2023

Run Lola Run

At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...