Attack, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/08/13 00:41:43

"Imperfect, depressing, and all the more effective for it."
5 stars (Awesome)

There have been a fair number of movies, books, and the like about terrorism over the years, but many, in their perfectly reasonable attempt to illuminate the phenomenon, ignore a simple truth: Most people just can't understand. This is a good thing - murder should be seen as aberrant! - but it can also be disquieting knowledge, and that's what gives the last act of "The Attack" ("L'attentat") a fair amount of power.

The man about to come face to face with this idea is Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), an ethnically Palestinian but non-religious surgeon who lives and works in Tel Aviv. He receives an award for his outstanding work - the first Arab to be so honored - the day before an explosion at a cafe puts him to work saving lives. It's after that a personal bombshell hits him: One of the victims is his wife Siham (Reymond Amsalem), and her injuries are consistent with a suicide bomb. He cannot believe this is possible, and returns to his hometown of Nablus to find answers.

That search consumes the latter half of the movie, but the lead-up to it is somewhat interesting as well; co-writer and director Ziad Doueiri spends some time painting terror attacks and their aftermath not as commonplace, but as something akin to bad weather: Not an everyday occurrence or something you can predict, but there are systems in place and inconveniences you accept. There's not pure visceral horror in the far-off bang that Amin hears from the hospital roof, and while the Shin Bet guy who torments and interrogates him is unpleasant... Well, we may not approve even if we weren't relatively sure of Amin's innocence, but it's part of the landscape now. Doueiri could choose to push these events as horrific, but if he did, it might be taken as justification for what comes later. Instead, we're allowed to disapprove but still think we understand the world we live in.

Instead, the last act, where Amin is firmly but pointedly told that there's no point to his quest for answers because he wouldn't understand, it seems true and even more horrifying. That there's a divide between him and his neighbors - him and his wife - that simply can't be overcome is something his rational mind has a great deal of trouble processing, and it's the antithesis of why these stories are usually told. It's not a point Doueiri makes particularly subtly, but subtlety is not what's called for; you can find a way around subtlety. It is, however, something that the characters say with conviction, and which shows up not just as an absolute but between people who reasonably might think they have common ground; just having multiple levels of sympathy or support is enough to mark people as alien.

The cast puts this across fairly well, although not perfectly. Ali Suliman and Reymond Amsalem are not the most charismatic actors one will find as Amin and Shiham, although both manage to build the pair into more complex, interesting characters as the movie goes on, even if that perhaps means the audience knows less what to make of them by the end. Some of the supporting characters are like this as well - Karim Saleh, for instance, seems very obvious in his initial appearance as Amin's nephew Adel, and while he does turn out to be more or less what the audience might expect, he is that in a surprisingly human way. Ramzi Makdessi, who appears in the last act to talk a lot, is still able to hold the audience's interest doing so.

Doueiri ties it together fairly well, though; for a movie that could be (and, honestly, is) a lot of pontificating, it manages to make its point compelling rather than just a lecture. Even if that point is, perhaps, the most crushingly depressing one I can imagine on that subject.

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