The director of Four Lions brings us a story of law enforcement framing a group of people for their own gain.
Moses Al Shabazz (Marchánt Davis) is the leader of a small commune in Miami called the Star of Six. He has a wife, Venus (Danielle “Taystee” Brooks), a daughter, Rosa (Calah Lane), and two followers X (Malcolm Mays) and Afrika (Andrel McPherson). Moses is depicted as being mentally ill and off of his anti-psychotic meds, leading his commune in worshipping Allah, Black Santa, and Toussaint Louverture. Despite his claims of wanting to overthrow the entrenched white powers, Moses strongly opposes any firearms. FBI Agent Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) sees Moses during a live-stream and decides to use him as a patsy. She intends to bait him into dealing with Reza (Kayvan Novak), a pedophile shopkeeper that the FBI uses to act as a fake terrorist go-between, so that she can claim Moses is engaged in revolutionary terrorist activities to advance her career.
If you’re not familiar with the writer/director of this film and Four Lions, Chris Morris, he’s a British satirist who appeared in the first season of The IT Crowd and directed some of the comedy Veep. He’s notable for his off-kilter humor and dark satire. This film is no exception to that legacy. I consider it to be in the same vein as Sorry to Bother You, although that movie is much more surreal. If you don’t like that kind of humor, you will not like this film at all.
The key to this movie is how well Davis plays the lead. He is an active revolutionary who, ultimately, just wants to help everyone more than just glorify himself. When negotiating with what he thinks are terrorists, Moses only asks for farm equipment and a horse, because he thinks those will ultimately be more helpful to his cause than guns. Despite the fact that he is definitely insane, Moses is not a threat. In fact, he’s unquestionably more moral than all of the members of the FBI who deal with him. While his psychosis is the thing that makes him have difficulties getting support or keeping his farm active, it’s also what drives him to try to fight against oppression in the first place. If Davis hadn’t done such a great job walking the line in his portrayal, this could have come off with the exact opposite message that the film was going for.
That’s not to say that the supporting cast aren’t equally important. Many of the best actual “joke” sequences arise from watching Afrika and X try to work under the strange and sometimes conflicting orders of their leader. I also have to give credit to the delivery of all of the FBI agents in the film, because it’s hard to put so much fake gravitas into the absurd things they’re saying. Danielle Brooks is also hilarious as the long-suffering wife of a man with such insane ambitions.
The downside to the film is that it never quite goes as extreme as it probably should for a satire, although I think that’s because Chris Morris wanted to keep it realistic enough to draw comparisons from potential COINTELPRO actions and the like. It also definitely isn’t as quotable as most satires are.
Overall, I recommend it for people that have a dark sense of humor. The ending is one of the best parts, so make sure to stick with it.
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