Chris Morris transplants his brazen brilliance stateside with the aide of Marchánt Davis and Anna Kendrick
Through a career that has delivered slices of satirical genius with shows like The Day Today, Brass Eye, and Nathan Barley, many have eagerly awaited a new work from Chris Morris. It’s been close to a decade since he dropped his last feature Four Lions, after all, a film that required just a slight suspension of belief to accept its depiction of a hapless terrorist cell in the North of England. Today, we’re in a cultural and political climate where every day our beliefs and disbelief are further challenged. How do you satirize a world that has turned into a mockery of what it once was? Chris Morris finds a way, by taking something that seems outlandish, but is horrifyingly real, and transplanting his terrorist take seen in Four Lions from the UK to the US, but with FBI anti-terrorist sting operations in his sights.
Moses Al Shabaz (Marchánt Davis, in a remarkable debut) is the founder of ‘Star of Six’, a non-profit (that could generate a profit if it would help with securing a bank loan) community farm & mission setup with the aim of supporting African-Americans in Miami who are being squeezed out by gentrification. He serves as leader, but more so as a preacher and a conduit to God, who spoke to him through a duck that was usually inhabited by Satan. With his followers there is talk of a black jihad, a revolution and reckoning, “black Santa,” all while eating bartered food or what can be salvaged from a Wendy’s dumpster. He’s deluded rather than fanatical, but when his landlord threatens eviction, Moses is put in a desperate situation — he must find a way to procure illicit materials for him, or see his wife Venus (Danielle Brooks, Orange is the New Black) and their daughter become homeless. A local Muslim shopkeeper, Reza (Kayvan Novak), takes interest and sets Moses up with a Sheikh representing the Islamic state, one not just willing to support his basic requests, but to escalate them beyond what Moses is initially comfortable with. Unbeknownst to him, the contacts urging him on are FBI plants and informants, being used to turn potential terrorists into actual ones so they can be arrested before any crimes can actually take place.
Playing the puppeteers is the Miami FBI anti-terrorist unit, headed by Andy Mudd (Denis O’Hare), who after a rather hapless operation at the open, tells his underlings to “Pitch me the next 9/11!” Agent Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) has identified Moses as having potential and sets up a preliminary op to see if he bites using their informant Reza. The fact this man is a known pedophile, kept around by the bureau because of his contacts and effectiveness, reveals much about the morals at play here. While initially reluctant to come on board, they engineer the situation to a point where Moses is in over his head, before realizing they themselves are too, as planted “radioactive material” soon sets off a national emergency.
The Day Shall Come is introduced as being “based on a hundred true stories,” tales of government organizations helping to kickstart a revolution so they can arrest those responsible before any real damage is done. It sure sounds like entrapment, but thanks to some obscure laws and bureau policies, it’s completely legal, and happening every day. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see how wrong such a scenario could go, and Chris Morris is here to deliver a farcically fueled, tragic take on such a setup. Moses is selected after rallying against repression of people of color, not to mention the encroaching cranes, condos, and general gentrification that are driving up rents and pushing him and his followers out. It’s a delusional mindset, but one rooted in generations of oppression and the need to protect and provide for his family. He initially asks for farming equipment (and a horse) and gets offered AK47s. Ironic, as it’s already been established his Star of Six group seeks to destroy guns, the weapon of the white man, and instead stick to weapons of tradition: the sword, the sling, and the (toy) crossbow. In Four Lions, it was the aspiring jihadists that were the bumbling source of the story; here it’s the FBI’s (mis)management of these situations that adds to an escalating farce. There’s lack of communication between government agencies (the FBI vs local police being a comedy vein well tapped),and agents doubling down on the situation with the hope of making it to the other side, only acknowledging there is a national emergency so they can take control of the situation they have created, one where the radioactive threat is literally canisters of piss and beans. Using their resources, and tax-payer monies, they don’t hunt terrorists so much as engineer them. There might be a logic to this strategy, but is it morally right? Is this about security or satisfying the higher ups and arrest quotas? It adds an insidious edge as they maneuver people who are angry or vulnerable and might just need that little push to do something more.
The acerbic talents of Anna Kendrick are a perfect fit for Morris’s particular brand of verbiage, but more importantly her growing doubts about the approach add a basic human conscience. Marchánt Davis is a ludicrous but sympathetic character, given time to show his family dynamic as well as good facets of his nature, most notably how he actually tries to turn the FBI in on themselves. Both represent sides of this comical and horrifying situation, primed for Morris’s sensibilities. Wildly inappropriate but hilarious moments and dialogue are thrown at you as the film hurtles into the shit-storm that has been created. You expect this not to end well, but the film still manages to knock the wind out of you with a rather dispiriting climax, not ending with a bang so much as with a weary sigh. The repression and manipulation that has beset so many for so long is still rampant. The Day Shall Come is a stinging and sardonic castigation of a system where the players believe that the ends justify the means, leaving the pawns to suffer the consequences.