Comedy is probably the most subjective genre in film because if you don't find something funny then there's not much you can do about it. You can appreciate the premise, like @Spinnaker1981 said, but if you're not laughing, then you won't really enjoy the film. Even before seeing this for the first time ten years ago I knew I would like it because I was a fan of director Chris Morris' previous work on British TV (Brass Eye, Nathan Barley, etc), as well as that of his co-writers for this film, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, who created the brilliant sitcom Peep Show. Re-watching this for the first time in many years I was pleased to see that I enjoyed it just as much as I did back then. I still found the jokes funny, even though I knew the punchlines, I found the premise and the situations just as shocking, and there were parts that I still found weirdly touching.
We start with a very arresting image, something that we've seen all over the news for the past twenty years, a jihad video. But we know something is different once Waj (Kayvan Novak) starts talking. "Ey up ya unbelievin' kuffar bastards" in a thick northern English accent, something really colloquial and close to home when you might be expecting a middle-eastern accent, like we've all seen on the news. He is shown to be with his friends and co-conspirators Omar (Riz Ahmed), Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar). Waj is mocked for having a replica AK47, and when told that it looks tiny he says that's just because he has "big hands". This opening scene sets the tone of the film perfectly; incompetent terrorists with evil intentions. The next scene, we see Omar at his very normal looking home with his wife and kid, editing his jihad video on his laptop. "They're all bloopers" he says, telling us that they will mess up at every opportunity. This also shows us the confused mentality that Omar has, he wants to attack western values but he clearly hasn't rejected them totally.
The next shot is a long zoom in on a mosque from some distance, giving it the impression of surveillance, someone watching them. Then we get shots of a shopping centre that are framed like CCTV camera. We then see Omar at work, security at the shopping centre. He watches cameras all day. This reinforces the sense of surveillance that pervades the film, and really becomes the main directorial motif throughout the film. He gets an email inviting him to a training camp in Pakistan veiled as an invite to a "wedding". This gives his decision whether to go or not a real weight as it's showing that he's making a big commitment like an actual wedding, 'til death us do part. His co-worker, Matt, then asks him, in an unrelated conversation, "where do you see yourself in five years time?" This only gives Omar more to think about, will he even be alive in five years?
We then get an establishing shot of what could be any town in the UK, which gets a surveillance style zoom from what seems like miles away right up to the house where the gang are meeting. One of them even says "are they looking at us through cameras?", giving us the first taste of the paranoia that they feel, and which will only intensify. Barry is giving them a lesson on how to stay under the radar, telling them that they should swallow their SIM cards, before demonstrating. This is set-up to something that will pay off in a huge way later in the film. There are lots of moments like that all through the film, something which you think was just done for a one-time gag coming back later in surprising and shocking ways. Omar then enters, telling them that he's been called up. Barry is angry at this, feeling like he's been left out, saying "why didn't I get the call?" to which Omar says "because you don't have an uncle in Pakistan." Because Barry is a convert, born a white British man, he feels like an outsider which, I think, pushes him to be the most radical of them all, like he's trying to prove his loyalty to the cause. This also gives him a sense of self-importance. In the next scene he complains "if I don't come with you to Pakistan, Islam is finished." The rest of the guys then just mock him for not speaking Arabic, probably making him want to act out even more.
We're then with Omar and Waj in Pakistan. The establishing shots here show a busy and bustling city full of noise and people, quite a contrast to quiet northern England. Here is where Waj and Omar start to really take this seriously, saying how they'd kill each other if they had to, a decision that Omar will have to make later. Waj's stupidity and child-like naivety is also really shown here as Omar has to explain why they're doing this with an analogy about theme parks. He tells them that blowing up unbelievers will give him the fast pass to the front of the line for rubber dingy rapids. This also makes Omar feel like the dad of the group, something we see a lot of later in the film. They are then seen being driven through a mountain pass in darkness, making them really seem out of place and a million miles from home. When they all set up to pray to Mecca we get another great showing of Waj's idiocy as he can't get his head around the idea that because they flew over Mecca he has to pray to the west. I liked how in this entire Pakistan section only Waj and Omar are shown as being idiots, the rest of the cast play it straight, emphasising how incompetent and ridiculous our leads are. They then see a drone fly overhead. Omar wants to shoot it down, but is told it is too high, another little set up for a joke later.
Cutting back to Sheffield is a real contrast to Pakistan, showing that people like Barry are so disconnected from what they're talking about. We see him sitting at a panel talking about Islam where he is being incendiary just for the sake of getting attention. Hearing him speak here really reminded me of Trump. His warped thought process is also shown here. When challenged that terrorist training camps really do exist, which he knows they do, he throws it back at them saying "if they didn't exist you'd have to invent them." He has a real victims mentality, which goes nicely with his outsider syndrome. This is also where we meet Hassan (Arsher Ali), a young wannabe rapper who interrupts the meeting by rapping, before showing that he has a bomb strapped to him. However, it turns out to be a prank, he doesn't really want to blow himself up, something that will come up at the end of the film. Of course, this kind of pointless exhibition is something that Barry would like, so he recruits him, telling him how bad the world has become, "we got women talking back. We got people playing stringed instruments. It's the end of days."
In Pakistan Omar and Waj have been left behind at the base, not taken to an important meeting with the rest of the terrorists. They belong more in England than they do here. The locals see them as the outsiders. They talk about God's will and how this is all his plan, they have no responsibility for their actions. They then see a drone, and with it an opportunity to impress the locals. It's flying low enough to shoot down, so Omar grabs a rocket launcher, which gets Waj excited like a kid at Christmas ("fucking yes bro"), and proceeds to fire it the wrong way, back into the camp. Seeing this Waj just asks "is this God's will bro?" something he asks more and more later in the film. Omar tells him "just run away" which had real Monty Python and the Holy Grail vibes to it ("run away, run away").
Barry, Faisal and Hassan are trying to come up with a suitable target for their attack, and we are reminded that these are not people we are supposed to like when Faisal suggests they "put a bomb on a crow and fly it into a tower full of Jews and slags". The contrast in these characters being both ridiculous (bomb on a crow) and hateful (Jews and slags) is a fine line that I think Morris treads very well. It allows you to laugh at these people and not with them, which is an important distinction. Barry then proposes that the bomb the mosque to radicalise the moderates and kick off the holy war. This is exactly the kind of false flag conspiracy theory nonsense that someone like Barry, always on the outside of society, would believe.
Establishing shots of the airport again have that surveillance feel to them as Omar and Waj return from Pakistan, planning to lie to Barry to save them the embarrassment. When they meet him Omar starts to say something before Barry interrupts "bollocks. You fucked up." You can't bullshit a bullshitter. He manages to bring him round when he tells him that they've been given the go ahead for their attack. Barry now doesn't care if they're lying or not, he gets to do what he wants to do. Waj then asks Omar "what about them Arabs?" (from the camp they blew up). Omar's manipulative side comes out again by telling him "they were bad...tribesman" leading Waj to believe that he's doing the right thing, God's will. At the end of this scene Barry's car doesn't start first time ("I fixed it myself") setting up an important scene later.
At their next meeting, upon hearing of Barry's plan to bomb the mosque, Omar gets angry with him, telling him "my brother died defending a mosque in Bosnia", showing how actions around the world ripple and their effects can be felt in a different country, how the world is a small place. This cements Omar as the serious one of the group, the one with the real drive. This moment of tension is broken by Faisal suggesting "Let's bomb Boots. They sell condoms that make you wanna bang white girls". This is typical of extremists of any religion, blaming others for their own actions, how nothing is in their hands (God's will). Omar dismisses this as being too small scale, not important enough, which will come back later.
There is a quick scene next where we see Waj and Hassan dancing to the song "Dancing in the Moonlight". I feel like this is important for their characters as it shows them as normal people just having a laugh. This paints the two as the sympathetic duo of the gang. If there is anyone in this film to root for, or to have any kind of empathy for, it's them. If Omar and Barry are the parents, always arguing, then Waj and Hassan are the two naive kids just going along with what their parents tell them is right. They are just too stupid (Waj) or wrapped up in their teenage anti-authority rapper persona (Hassan) to question anything, yet.
There is another very important scene next, where we see Omar's brother, Ahmed (Wazim Takir) visit Omar, because he knows he's planning something. Ahmed is presented as a very conservative Muslim, he dresses in tradition clothing and won't enter the room because Omar's wife is present, he is mocked for keeping his own wife in a cupboard, to which he replies with one of my favourite lines in the film, "it's not a cupboard, it's a small room". Out of the two, most people would assume that it would be Ahmed who would want to perform such an attack on the western way of life, but he is a pacifist. It is Omar, who seems to have embraced the society he lives in, who wants to attack it. This made me think about Omar's motives, why is he doing this? Nothing we've seen in the film would make me think that he has a grudge against society. We've not seen him be abused because of his race or religion. He has a job, friends (Matt, not just his crazy friends), a nice house, a family, and a brother who clearly cares about him. There is nothing special about him. And I think that's the point. He feels so insignificant and impotent that he feels the only way to make a mark on the world, to be remembered, is to do something like this. Sometimes a motive like that can be more dangerous than extremism. The scene ends with Omar and Ahmed getting into a water pistol fight, a childish playact of violence, which in the ends pushes his brother away.
Next we see a much darker side of Barry, which comes as a bit of a shock after the comedic outbursts of anger and all of the SIM card and car-key swallowing. He is making a bomb, and as he places each bolt in the bomb he gives it a target, "Jew...gay...gynecologist...innocent bloke, doesn't exist." It's such a sinister scene that really shows the depths of his hatred. He then intimidates Faisal, who is showing some second thoughts about blowing himself up. Barry gets right in his face and says "it is your choice, but you've already chosen to blow yourself up, haven't you?" This cements Barry as the antagonist of the film. None of them are good people, maybe Waj and Hassan could be redeemed if they get out, but Barry is a lost cause, willing to die, and kill, for his idiotic cause.
There is some more foreshadowing next as we see Faisal in a field testing out his crow bomb idea. It goes wrong, of course, blowing up prematurely. The scene ends with the frame snap-shotting like someone it taking photos of what he's doing, the feel of surveillance is getting more pervasive the closer they get to executing their plan. We then get shots of the gang, minus Hassan, testing out explosives by blowing up a microwave in a field. This is all shot in night-vision, fireworks exploding white on green in the sky. When they return to the flat they find Hassan dancing with a neighbour, again a bit of normalcy for one of the likeable characters. However, I don't like the character of his neighbour. She leaves at the end after they lie to her, saying they're all gay, saying that they can't be friends anymore. So she's homophobic? I don't see why, or what this is trying to say, and it was all a bit awkwardly done, my least favourite part of the film by far.
After she leaves, having seen all of their bomb making gear, Omar tells Hassan to kill her. "I want you to cut her head off and bring it back in a bucket". He then relents, saying "we're not really gonna kill her, are we?" Here, Omar proposes a violent act, but then goes back on his own idea. Here, he was able to do that, but later on in the film this will come back in a less retractable way. Because the neighbour had seen everything they need to move to a new location, taking all of the explosives with them. They all pile in to Barry's car, but on the journey it breaks down (pay-off), with Barry again passing on the blame. He was the one who fixed it, but he says "it's the parts, they're Jewish". He then gives confusing, contradictory instructions on how to run when carrying the explosives, "fast but slow, smooth but fast". This is just showing us his own confused thought process which leads him to such ridiculous conclusions.
As they're running to the new hideout we see Faisal running through a field. He jumps over a wall, trips, falls, and blows up. The way they had been messing with the explosives you were just waiting for something like this to happen. When Omar catches up with them he asks where Faisal is, only to be shown a bin bag. Barry tries to play up this mistake as something good, "it was a martyr's death. He took out a sheep, attacked the food supply." Here is where Omar starts to realise that he can't really do this, he's surrounded by idiots, and maybe he's starting to question his own morality. He can't talk around anyone else though, so goes off on his own. He walks past his brother and his friends playing football in the park. He hasn't even got the heart to take the piss out of him properly, saying "you and your boys look like...something stupid." His brother can sense that something is wrong, and asks Omar to talk to him, but Omar feels like he's being condescended to, and storms off to find comfort somewhere else. He gets that from his wife, who encourages him to keep going with his plan. Had he talked to his brother maybe he would have been saved, but his wife and son are just as extreme as he is, maybe because of him, so she can only encourage him to do the wrong thing, which she thinks is the right thing.
She says "it must have been God's will for him to get blown up by a sheep", so he has probably been giving her the same manipulative treatment that he's been giving Waj. She also knows that he's the leader of the group, and she is probably proud of that fact. She tells him "if they're going to blow themselves up in the wrong place, you've got to be there to make sure they blow up in the right place". His son even gets in on the act saying "God's in your heart, dad." In any other context this would be a really touching scene between a family, but they're encouraging him to perform a terrorist atrocity. It's a very potent juxtaposition.
The next scene, where Omar goes back to the lads to make amends and lead them in the right direction is intercut with night-vision shots of a huge squad of armed police pulling up and preparing to storm the house. Inside, Omar is telling them that they should bomb the London Marathon, an idea he got from his work colleague who is a runner. At one point he tells Waj "you listened to your heart, and you did the right thing", setting up a conversation they'll have later. We then see the police storming the house, but it's Omar's brother's house. We even get to see the "small room" I think this shows that all along the police have been monitoring Ahmed all along. They assumed, because he is a conservative Muslim, that he is the one planning an attack.
Before leaving for London, Omar goes to visit his wife at work at the hospital, but she is being talked to by the police, because of Ahmed. Omar pretends to just work there when going up to her, giving her a coded goodbye message, "I've finished my shift now, so I'm gonna take my tea to the top floor". As he walks off she looks so proud, and I felt a mixture of being touched at their relationship, and disgusted by what she's proud of.
The gang drive to London, and we get some establishing shots of the marathon preparations, including a couple of snipers setting up on a roof overlooking the route. In a back alley, they lads are getting into their costumes when Waj starts to question what they're doing. "We're doing the right thing, yeah bro?". Omar tells him "what does your heart say" referring back to their earlier conversation, but Waj replies "it says it's wrong Waj, don't do it." Omar then goes into full manipulation mode, telling him that his heart is really his brain in disguise, and his brain is his heart in disguise, so he should listen to his brain, which is really his heart. This just confuses Waj into going along with things, rather than convincing him of the ideology and letting his choose for himself. This scene really made me hate Omar for doing Waj dirty like that. They are soon interrupted by a passing policeman who remarks, on seeing their big furry costumes, "you're gonna die in that gear, lads." There is a close up on Hassan's face when this is said that really shows the inner conflict, and the realisation of what he's actually doing.
After the policeman walks off, Hassan runs after him, wanting to be saved. He shouts after the cop "I'm accidentally a suicide bomber," which confuses the policeman, who at first thinks it's a prank, but starts to believe him as he is so intense and panicked. He doesn't get a chance to turn himself in, however, as Barry detonates the bomb with his phone, and the gang run off in the chaos. Omar confronts Barry, saying "you killed him, you took away his choice," with Barry replying "did you give Waj a choice when you told him his heart is his brain." It is here where Omar goes back on his plan. He doesn't want to blow himself up anymore, he doesn't want Waj to blow himself up either, but Waj has run off, so Omar runs off after him.
There are several shots of them all running through the streets next, which is a ridiculous image as they are in these stupid costumes. There is also no music, only the sounds of helicopters and sirens, they are being pursued. Waj runs into a kebab shop and takes everyone inside hostage, ironically they are all fellow Muslims. We then get the sniper scene. Omar is dressed as the honey monster, but the snipers are told to shoot a bear, so they shoot someone dressed as Chewbacca. This is a hilarious scene, with some great lines like "is a Wookie a bear?" and "it must be the right target, I just shot it." Omar calls Waj, who answers by saying "Are you in paradise, bro?" Omar tries to un-confuse Waj, who doesn't even think he is confused, because he took a picture of his face, and it's not his confused face. Omar insists "you are confused, I confused you", but at this point Barry tackles him, wrenching his phone away and swallowing the SIM card. But this time, he starts to choke on it, and in a stark lesson on why you never help strangers, a guy walks up to him and gives him the Heimlich maneuver, causing Barry's bomb to go off.
Back to Waj in the kebab shop, and the hostage negotiator has arrived. It's Benedict Cumberbatch! Totally forgot he was in this. He calls Waj asking for his demands, Waj saying "I don't have any". The negotiator tries to talk to Waj about girls, saying "you're an arse man, aren't you?" Waj thinks he is being called gay, so he ends the call. During this scene we kept cutting back to Omar, trying to buy a new phone, but getting frustrated by how long it takes before giving up and leaving. He's running through the streets and all he sees is police. He runs into Matt, telling him he's with MI5. He borrows Matt's phone and calls Waj who asks him "tell me what to do, bro?" he is so used to Omar ordering him around he can't think for himself. Sadly, at this point the police storm the place and shoot Waj's one remaining hostage (he let the rest go). The police think they have just saved an innocent man's life, but all Waj can do is look at them and pathetically mutter "I'm sorry lads, I don't really know what I'm doing." Bang.
We cut back to Omar, the phone is dead in his hand and we can see the full realisation on his face of what he's done. He's the only one left. Surrounded by police, he turns to Matt and says "tell them I was smiling". He then walks into the nearby Boots pharmacy and blows it up. Earlier he dismissed that as too small and unimportant, just like him.
There is an epilogue over the end credits. We see Ahmed being threatened with torture. Matt still convinced that Omar was with MI5. A man from the earlier meeting where Barry met Hassan see on TV saying "the police shot the right man, but the wrong man exploded." We see Hassan freestyling a rap, trying to rhyme "creed" with "died" (di-heed) before Waj insults his musical taste, "with all due respect bro, you like Maroon 5." Then we see several scenes from throughout the movie, but from the perspective of CCTV cameras, reinforcing the idea of surveillance and paranoia that pervaded the film. Finally, we end with a laugh as we learn that the rocket that Omar fired the wrong way in Pakistan inadvertently killed Osama Bin-Laden.
To wrap up I think this is a very well made film, at some points it does feel like a TV show, but that's natural since Morris comes from a TV background. The script is still relevant, and, most important of all for a comedy, funny. The main characters were all over the top, except Omar, but I still felt like they were real people, and I felt real conflict in rooting for Waj and Hassan to get out of this situation.
I give this a real solid 8/10