9/27/2019

Review: 'The Day Shall Come', Anna Kendrick And 'Four Lions' Director Mine Uneven Humor From National Security Threats


Finding humor in a suicide bomber plot is no easy feat, but that's what brilliant political satirist Chris Morris did to hilarious effect with Four Lions. He mines similarly treacherous territory with his latest, The Day Shall Come, in which terrorism is again central to the topsy-turvy plot. Only it's the epic ineptitude and naked ambition of those charged with protecting our national security who prove to be the real security threat, with results that are funny but uneven.

Not that Morris has ever had to lean on star power, but he knows to get the most out of Anna Kendrick, who plays FBI agent Kendra Glack. Like many of her federal colleagues, Kendra is looking to move up in the ranks, and the best way to do that is to create, then stop, a major national security threat, like "the next 9/11." They'll stop at nothing to do it, too, even going so far as to have an undercover agent literally walk a potential terrorist through the painstaking process of dialing up a bomb to explode. A fake bomb, of course, but who cares? That the bomber is a clown who clearly has no idea what he's doing (he also has a very specific fear of numbers, making the act of dialing torturous) doesn't really matter. Stop the bomb, get a promotion.


Add a racial element into the mix and the potential for recognition gets even higher. Glack latches on to black power street preacher and activist Moses Al Shabaz (March├ínt Davis) who along with his wife (Danielle Brooks) and an army of five other misfits, rail against Miami gentrification elbowing blacks out of his impoverished community. The aptly-named Moses sees himself as  revolutionary, but he's hardly going places and has nobody to really lead. That he's also stricken by some unknown mental illness that leaves his judgment foggy at best is just one of the many factors working against him. But Moses and his crew are harmless, marching through the city streets looking for injustices to fight. They're as clueless as anyone when they get saddled as world-threatening terrorists with a possible nuclear agenda.


What's up is down and what's down is up in the screenplay by Morris and Armando Iannucci acolyte Jesse Armstrong, who recently won an Emmy for his writing on HBO's Succession. The absurdism both strengthens the movie's satirical note and undercuts the heavier themes.  While the FBI's callous disregard is played up for laughs, what's not funny is the government's ignorance to the poverty and helplessness that drive people to extremes. Moses isn't the best symbol of that point, though, as Morris seems unsure how to depict his wayward revolutionary. Either he's so dumb as to pay for wooden potatoes or he's brilliant enough to be a leader of men with a vision of a better community for his people. It just sorta depends on what's needed at the moment. That shouldn't be seen as a knock on newcomer Davis, who is charismatic as Hell and exchanges ridiculous moments with Kendrick like a seasoned comedy pro. Between many of Moses' wildest assertions, there are glimpses of the pain he feels at what he sees happening around him, and Davis does wonders in bringing that to the surface.


The final act, a rapidly escalating slapstick showdown involving phony weapons and a donut shop, spins out of Morris' control. There's a delicate balance where there is just enough truth to power the movie's subversive humor. Morris goes too far in the other direction for The Day Shall Come's grim post-script. We may have been laughing but for those snagged in the real-life stories Morris drew upon, the joke was on them.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5