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Billed as being “based on a hundred true stories”, this dark tragicomedy from co-writer/director Chris Morris paints a cracked portrait of counter-terrorism operations in the United States in which imagined enemies are eminently more imprisonable than their real-life counterparts. While The Day Shall Come may lack the breathtaking bite of Morris’s feature debut Four Lions or the experimental weirdness of his head-spinning TV show Jam, it does boast a fine cast, an alarming premise and a palpable sense of anger behind its increasingly absurdist comedy.
Marchánt Davis is Moses, “sultan” of the “Star of Six community farm and mission” in Miami, which preaches salvation through a heady cocktail of education, mysticism and martial arts, inspired by the figure of Haitian rebel Toussaint Louverture. With his wife, Venus (Danielle Brooks), Moses is preparing for “the great inversion” – the revolution that will change the world. Crucially, this revolution will be achieved “without the gun weapon”, since Moses believes only in “weapons of tradition”, which appear to include a toy crossbow, imaginary ray guns and his own ability to bring down gentrifying cranes with his mind.
With his tiny rag-tag group of reformed drug dealers turned kale farmers, Moses (who believes that God spoke to him through a duck) is clearly harmless, more devoted to his daughter, Rosa (Calah Lane), than to any genuine insurrection. But when the threat of eviction from his beloved farm looms, Moses is bamboozled into accepting an offer of money and guns from a Middle Eastern sponsor, apparently eager to fund “people building armies”. In fact he’s a plant, part of an increasingly desperate FBI ploy by ambitious agent Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) and her close-to-retirement boss Andy Mudd (Denis O’Hare) to bag a major terrorist conviction, whatever it takes. Next thing, Moses is riding a horse, planning to build a fence from AK-47s and apparently conspiring to deal in nuclear weapons thanks to a Kafkaeqsue fit-up without which (we are assured) “the Statue of Liberty is wearing a burqa and we’ve beheaded Bruce Springsteen”.
Morris describes The Day Shall Come in theatrical terms, as the story of a fringe preacher trapped in a “false reality” that has been scripted by the FBI, a character in a play who doesn’t realise that his whole world is a stage. For Morris, this surreal scenario (inspired by, among others, the real-life case of the Liberty City Seven) is indicative of “an unfortunate truth that has brought farce to the heart of America’s homeland security project”, a paranoid post-9/11 fever in which “informants encourage a person of interest to break the law and when they do, the FBI arrests them”.
Within this pernicious (if somewhat overcooked) circle of absurdity, double-negatives abound, as purportedly counter-terrorist operatives attempt to create and supply supposed terrorists, who promptly turn themselves in to the authorities, hoping to claim a reward for crimes they haven’t committed. “Act nervous like you’re holding nukes,” one young “warrior” is told, “not nervous like you’re not holding nukes…” Inevitably, the spectre of Dr Strangelove is invoked, as Kendrick’s increasingly conflicted agent discovers that, in order to call off an accidentally manufactured WMD emergency, she must first declare a WMD emergency; only by acknowledging the existence of a nonexistent crisis can she stop it from existing. Amid such a self-perpetuating tornado of madness, the only way is up, with the unwitting Moses caught in the eye of the storm. Or, as Glack puts it: “His get-out-of-jail card is… going to jail.”
None of this would pack a punch were it not for the powerful thread of pathos that runs through the drama. As with Four Lions, it’s the juxtaposition of domesticity and outrage that pays dividends, with Moses’s fracturing family life serving as a crucial counterpoint to the crazed machinations of the FBI’s plots. Aided by a sometimes surprisingly sensitive script (co-credited to Morris and Jesse Armstrong, with additional material by Sean Gray and Tony Roche), Davis turns Moses into a fully rounded character – foolish perhaps, but also blessed with a peculiar nobility. A scene in which Brooks’s Venus humours her husband’s psychokinetic delusions is beautifully played, adding a touch of magic to the down-to-earth pratfalls, injecting a much-needed element of love amid the escalating conflict.
As for Kendrick, she stays on just the right side of caricature, playing it straight enough to lend necessary weight to the standoffs of the third act, as we head towards a satisfyingly unforgiving finale.
Source: The Guardian
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