Review: The Day Shall Come

DIR: Chris Morris • WRI: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong • DOP: Marcel Zyskind • ED: Billy Sneddon • DES: Lucio Seixas • PRO: Iain Canning, Anne Carey, Christopher Morris, Emile Sherman • MUS: Christopher Morris, Sebastian Rochford, Jonathan Whitehead • CAST: Anna Kendrick, Danielle Brooks, Denis O’Hare

Chris Morris’ second feature The Day Shall Come continues in a similar vein to Four Lions. It features a hodgepodge of eccentrics that would take on the world-order in the name of Allah. In this case our potential jihadists are quite harmless. Led by the person with mental illness and well meaning Moses Al Shabazz, they have a non-violent jihad policy, preferring notional bow and arrows and dinosaurs to guns, when the day shall come. 

Moses and his impoverished little band eke out a frugal existence on the margins of society in Florida. Unfortunately, the FBI are looking for a patsy after a failed attempt to get a case against a stoned ‘terrorist’ they had already baited in order to target a spring break extravaganza with a large bomb. In one of the film’s funniest moments, we learn that the potential terrorist has a religious inspired phobia for the number five and is unwilling to press all the numbers required to detonate the device.  Moses’ eccentricities turn out to be even harder to manipulate than expected and it is only when he is facing eviction does he become a possible successful target for the FBI’s machinations.

There is no doubting Morris’ talent as a comedy writer and satirist, nor his huge influence on so many talents for good and bad. Brass Eye is still one of British television’s great achievements.  When someone mentions cake to me Brass Eye is the first thing that comes to mind, not actual cake. Unfortunately, Morris latest film is not one of his great achievements. Playing with an uneasy mix of drama and farce it feels at times like an overly complex South Park episode but lacking the topicality South Park has as part of its armoury.  There is no doubting the righteousness of his agenda and it is never less than amusing, but unfortunately as satire it all feels rather toothless. The farcical elements outweigh the drama that is required for it to have an impact and in the final denouement it goes where a Chris Morris venture would be expected to go but without any resonance.  We understand the implication of the film’s point of view but its manipulations along the way to get us there feel too contrived to have real emotional weight.  

At the beginning of the film a title tells us it is inspired by “One hundred true stories”, if some of these stories had been relayed to us in some way rather than alluded to, the film might have had a stronger impact instead of being just a cold, clever farce that tells us the FBI are bad guys.

Paul Farren

87′ 37″
15A (see IFCO for details)

The Day Shall Come is released 11th October 2019

The Day Shall Come – Official Website


 

 

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BAFTA winner Chris Morris on 'Four Lions'

four Lions

Last night satirist Chris Morris picked up the ‘Outstanding Debut by a Writer, Director or Producer’ Award at the BAFTA film awards. James Bartlett talks with him about his dark comedy, Four Lions.

Even though movie fans are crying out for something original, it’s hard to imagine a tougher challenge than pitching a movie about Muslim suicide bombers – a comedy about Muslim suicide bombers – but British satirist Chris Morris has pulled it off in his directorial feature debut Four Lions:

‘It makes me sound like a fool when I say I had no hesitations, but after getting into the research I knew enough to feel that making this film was not taking a copy of the Koran and chucking it into a sewer. Most Muslims stare at these people (suicide bombers) in shock and dismay as much as anyone else, and the most common response I got from British Muslims when I said: ‘By the way, this will be a comedy about jihadis’ was that they said ‘bring it on’ CM:. That was what emboldened me and ushered me forward.’

Set in an unspecified town in the Northern part of England, <em>Four Lions</em> is the story of four Muslims – Omar (Riz Ahmed), Hassan (Arsher Ali), Waj (Kayvan Novak) and British convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay) – who decide that the time has come to put their plan into action; they’ll attack the London marathon. Unfortunately, Omar is the only one with any real brains, and the cell quickly starts to unravel – cue the exploding crows, the bickering and the bizarre party costumes.

With the continual round of screenings and interviews, Morris admitted that he’s ‘sort of brainwashed himself’ into a place where he can only talk about Four Lions (though ‘I could be talking about giant squid in the next sentence and I wouldn’t know it’) and this dynamic also came into play during shooting:

‘The actors and us all lived in the same hotel, and we sort of realized that we were forming a parallel cell in real life, which had morphed out of the group dynamics you see on screen. Literally, it would have been possible to convince them to do anything by the end.’

Morris was initially inspired by a story he read about a plan to ram a US warship with a boat filled with explosives. The cell loaded up the boat, launched it into the water and then watched it sink:

‘And I read about a guy last week trying to deliver bombs in Indonesia. He was cycling to his target and he swerved to avoid a hole in the road, hit a lamppost and exploded. To see such frailties means that they’re not hard-wired, alien, not 100% of the mineral evil – it’s more complicated than that. Laughing doesn’t make the situation change, but it helps to see that this stuff is often a lot more ridiculous than you think, and that these people are as capable of making the same stupid mistakes as you or I.’

Four Lions had been well–received in the UK, but coming to the US – and especially the first screening in New York – was more nerve-racking:

‘They of all people have a right to respond to this in a sensitive way, but not at all. ‘Yeah come on, we’ve got over this. This actually happened to us years ago, so we’re the last people on earth to still be mithering about it – we’re cool with this, it’s everyone else who needs to catch up.’ In screenings in Britain we had people in the army, who had lost friends in Afghanistan and Iran to suicide bombers, who laughed all the way through the film. Basically, people laugh, people get the jokes. Maybe we hoovered up the few thousands that lack that sensitivity and all the others will run screaming from the room!’

Famous and infamous in his native Britain as a comedian and broadcaster who regularly courted controversy, Morris seemed pleased not to be in that place with Four Lions:

‘Pissing people off is incredibly boring, because it’s just a binary switch. It’s fine the first time you do it, then it becomes really dull and there’s no gray area. I’ve just been pleased not to have to deal with idiots deliberately misunderstanding what the film’s about.’

There is however the moment in Four Lions when things start to take a more serious turn, and Morris wondered if there’s a scale regarding how much laughter is allowed when characters die:

‘People blow themselves up, people die, how far do you go? But the explosions – we’ve seen them before in films. I mean really, how many of those have you seen in your lifetime? Eight million? I was obsessed with the accuracy of the explosions, and that came from a lot of clips on YouTube featuring, I have to say, mainly American kids, manufacturing TATP and blowing up microwaves in fields and laughing hysterically.’

As for the tricky question of getting funding and distribution, Morris did get asked one question several times:

‘Could it be about people who are sort of like Muslims, but could you make up a religion?’ But then you’re doing ‘Battlestar Galactica’ or Dune. The most absurd thing was having a conversation with a man, on the phone, who was hiding in a stationery cupboard. He was talking in a weird, muffled, boxy voice and called from there because his board was split, and he didn’t want the others to hear that they could make this happen. That was the maddest it got really – and he accepted it.’

As for Morris, he’s carefully tending his next ideas to see which one is going to make it out alive:

‘You get the small pets and lock them in a hot box, then see which one survives. At the moment they’re rattling around and shrieking quite a lot. In a month’s time or so I’ll kind of know which one I’m doing. One of the pets is a little, invisible shriek radio pet. If I open the box and the others are dead, I’ll know it’s a radio idea I have to do.’

Four Lions was also nominated for Outstanding British Film, but unfortunately lost to The King’s Speech.
Click here for Steven Galvin’s review of Four Lions

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Four Lions

Four Lions

DIR: Chris Morris • WRI: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, Simon Blackwell • PRO: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger • DOP: Lol Crawley • ED: Billy Sneddon • DES: Dick Lunn • CAST: Kayvan Novak, Riz Ahmed, Preeya Kalidas, Nigel Lindsay, Arsher Ali

Four Lions is Chris Morris’ first feature, co-written with Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, the creators of Peep Show, alongside some additional writing provided by In the Loop’s Simon Blackwell. Morris’ previous barbed satirical TV output is well complimented here by his collaborators as Four Lions opens out through satire and embraces that particular human condition of comic tragedy that so often lies behind failure. It’s a decent debut from Morris and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

The film follows the bungling exploits of a sub-par band of Jihadi terrorists from Sheffield who set out to become suicide bombers during the London Marathon. The group consist of Omar (Riz Ahmed), his brother Waj (Kayvan Novak), Barry (Nigel Lindsay), Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) and Hassan (Arsher Ali). Omar is a family man who believes what he is doing is his destiny. Waj is in on it out of blind idolisation of his brother. Barry is a Caucasian convert with a nihilistic personality that needs to yolk his anger onto a cause so as to channel it. Faisal is a few chapters short of a Koran. And Hassan is roped in after threatening to blow up a political meeting with a set of party poppers strapped around him.

After Omar and Waj return from their calamitous experience at a training camp in Pakistan, Omar devises his plan to bring attention to their cause by donning ridiculous costumes and, under the guise of charity runners, running in the London Marathon and blowing themselves up. As they are about to join the marathon an inquisitive policeman remarks to them that, ‘You’ll die in those outfits’, which elicits the response: ‘Yeah. But it’s for a good cause’.

The film balances Morris’ trademark acerbic social insights and invective ridicule with more playful scenes of out-and-out physical comedy. Armstrong and Bain capture the nuances and rhythm of dialogue and their skill in creating character comedy is on display here. There’s some excellent verbal farce as well and the banter results in some amusing gag jousting.

As you would expect from Morris, the tone is never quite clear as it throws up some skilfully constructed jarring scenes of tonal contrasts that produce conflicting emotional responses. There are also some touching scenes as when Omar goes to say goodbye to his wife. Indeed the family dynamics produce some of the film’s most tender and dramatic scenes.

Morris incorporates particular aspects of reality into the film and exposes cack-handed preposterousness with a deft comic touch, such as during the marathon when the police are trying to ‘shoot the bear’, and instead shoot a wookie, and the resultant discussion over whether a wookie is a bear – an allusion to Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead on 22nd July, 2005 by police who mistook him for one of four would-be suicide bombers who had attacked London’s transport system the previous day. Such displays of incompetent stupidity grounds so much of Morris’ output.

The film is well cast and Ahmed and Lindsay give the two standout performances. Although Preeya Kalidas as Omar’s wife Sophia brings an underplayed tension to the few scenes she’s in that brings the terrorist aspect onto a deeper emotional level that is acutely painful. There are some structural flaws with the film and  two or three scenes are overly contrived in order to crowbar in comic set ups. It flags a bit in the middle and stumbles on in search of its culmination. But for the most part the film contains some fine moments and fulfils its aim of exposing the absurd nature of reality.

Four Lions is more mainstream than you would expect from someone with Chris Morris’ history. But I think this was necessary for him to be able to tackle the subject matter at hand and produce a film that at its heart deals quite sympathetically with that most curious of matters – human failure. The film’s final scenes are bathed in a bleak humour in the face of the brutal futility of the situation as matters come to a head. And by this stage, Morris has done enough with his humanized terrorists to make you care, which makes it all the more striking considering where our sympathies lie.

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

Four Lions is released on 7th May 2010

Four Lions – Official Website

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