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In the nine years since the release of Four Lions, Chris Morris’s incendiary feature film debut, his absence from both big and small screens has felt like an ill-timed loss. As a director, he’s taken on a handful of Veep episodes but as a writer, he’s starved us of new material which, for anyone familiar with his long and storied career, has been a tough blow. Because throughout his work, from The Day Today to Brass Eye to Nathan Barley, he’s perfected a brand of cultural and political commentary that’s both uniquely incisive and uniquely silly and given the world’s increasingly expedited scramble to the bottom, his outlook is needed now more than ever.
His follow-up has been shrouded in secrecy, filmed almost two years ago and now finally being unveiled at this year’s SXSW festival, a tantalisingly unknown quantity suddenly thrust into the spotlight. The past decade has offered plentiful options for Morris, territory so comically obscene that it’s almost beyond satire. It proved a struggle last year for Sacha Baron Cohen, whose much-heralded comeback show Who is America? tackled such idiocy head-on and felt tame in comparison, trying to shock us into submission without realising that we’ve now become virtually unshockable. Morris, who’s always avoided the easy road, has instead crafted a knotty, unlikely, humane farce that, while set in the US, doesn’t task itself with making broad, self-evident statements and avoids even a vague reference to the philanderer-in-chief.
In The Day Shall Come, a film “based on a hundred true stories”, we land in Miami, a city where poverty sits uneasily alongside gentrification, the extremes of both resulting in an underlying tension, one that threatens to boil over if Moses (newcomer Marchánt Davis) has his way. He’s positioned himself as a preacher and leader of an army made up of fellow black locals, frustrated and angered by a racial disparity that’s pushed them down the food chain. Together, they speak of a race war to overturn the “accidental dominance of the white people”. But there’s a catch – well, a number of them in fact. First, they have no money. Second, there’s just four of them. And finally, Moses has mental health issues and his avoidance of medication results in a string of delusions, from a belief that the CIA has preserved a small group of dinosaurs to an insistence that both God and Satan speak to him through a duck.
They’re harmlessly haphazard, avoiding serious firepower and putting their faith in smaller, often toy weapons, mostly just trying to survive and provide for Moses’s wife and daughter. But for the FBI, Moses provides an opportunity. “Pitch me the next 9/11!” a suit screams, putting faith in sting operations as a way of ensnaring potential terrorists. Eager agent Kendra (Anna Kendrick) sees Moses as a meal ticket and kicks off a manic series of events to prove that he’s dangerous, even if that means relying on fabrication over fact. The film’s farcical nature, with a plot always threatening to spin out of control, might seem similarly fantastical but Morris has revealed that in fact, some of the more far-fetched details have been snatched from reality.
Watching The Day Shall Come is often reminiscent of reading one of these stories, the leftfield particulars causing a smirk or at times even a guffaw before a sobering punchline hits you like a bus. The FBI’s practice of taking persons of interest and encouraging them to break the law is as staggeringly absurd as it is frighteningly common. It’s prime territory for Morris, allowing him yet again to contrast the silliness of the specifics with the starkness of the situation, the film a close cousin to Four Lions. Morris is able to remind us of the humanity that underpins these characters and in Moses, has created a protagonist whose mission to destroy the “cranes of the gentrifiers” is one that remains rooted even as his thinking edges closer into fantasy.
It’s a star-making role for Davis, an unknown actor who radiates such confidence and presence that one struggles to believe he’s a recent graduate with zero big-screen experience. So much of Morris’s heightened comedy depends on the right performers and, as in Four Lions, the various, multi-character dynamics in the film all hit his high notes, the four-man army as deftly controlled as the agents on their tail. The scenes involving the FBI recall some of Armando Iannucci’s swearier sequences of lunacy, creating a cacophony of power-hungry amorality and it’s in these scenes where Morris’s deepest cuts are made. His bleak view of their inhuman attempts to coerce and interfere is one that’s based on a hefty amount of research: Morris travelled across America to speak to informants, lawyers, law enforcement officers and the families of those serving time for crimes that were created in cold conference rooms.
The Day Shall Come is a short, sharp film at just 87 minutes, smartly bowing out before risking overkill, and while there’s anger kept at bay throughout, offset by the film’s many hilariously unhinged elements, there’s a finale that drives home a devastating truth. Morris handles a delicate balancing act with an expected ease, the work of a satirist with so much to say yet with an awareness that saying less leads to so much more.
Source: The Guardian
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