Image: E1 Entertainment/IFC Films
Director: Chris Morris
Starring: Marchánt Davis, Anna Kendrick, Miles Robbins, Andrei McPherson
The Day Shall Come has been released with relatively little fanfare, considering that it’s the first new film in nine years by Chris Morris – the comedian and satirist who practically had the entire tabloid press in outrage throughout much of the nineties and noughties with the likes of Brass Eye, Jam, and Four Lions.
For me, and most other moody cynics on the internet, the news that he had something new in the works was a God-send. We are at a time where politics seems to have gotten a whole lot madder, yet most satire seems to consist solely of shows like The Last Legor The Mash Reportcongratulating each other on how right they all are. The film was one that seemed incredibly long in the making, with shooting starting two years back, and around which there had been little news.
Now that it’s finally been released however – almost a decade after Morris’ last film Four Lions– it’s ended up provoking much less of a reaction than that film did. The Day Shall Comerevolves around similar issues of terrorism, but rather than following a group of committed and dangerous fanatics, it instead follows the story of one man who is, essentially, harmless, but who has been egged on by FBI agents eager to show they are cracking down on potential terrorists.
The film has all of Morris’s trademark surreal humour, opening with a wannabe terrorist who adamantly refuses to text the code to detonate a bomb because there’s too many number fives, a digit he’s irrationally terrified of. The horse which main character Moses believes can talk bears a lot of similarities to an early Morris work on the sketch radio showBlue Jam, whilst the FBI agent dialogue’s continual Catch-22 style are very reminiscent of series like The Thick of It.
And yet, for the most part, a lot of the humour in The Day Shall Come generally falls flat; this is probably the reason it has attracted a lot less attention that Morris’ other output. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s writing for American actors and audiences – something he’s probably not used to – or maybe it’s just that the script really isn’t anything that amazing, but much of the film seems padded with jokes that are obvious and stretched out. Almost all the best lines and moments are in the trailer, and a lot of it drags on a bit too long. It’s still good stuff, but pales in comparison to the likes of Four Lions.
Despite the fact that the core of the film is the absurdity of these pretty useless oddballs being painted as dangerous terrorists, you do leave wondering if it wouldn’t have been better as pure drama, rather than a comedy. Opening with the statement that the film is based on “a hundred true stories” – it having been inspired by real life cases of the FBI exploiting and enabling a few oddballs in order to dress them up as major terrorists – and closing on a sober montage, it is by far the most serious work Morris has ever done.
After a career of mercilessly mocking both those in authority and the ‘politically correct’, it’s certainly the closest he’s ever come to making some genuine political points. The ending in particular is something that comes across as sombre, and the film as a whole is one that demands changes to the current system, rather than simply laughing at it. It’s obvious that the real-life stories of the FBI enabling and entrapping innocent people has really caught Morris’ imagination, and as such there’s less of a sense of chaos and mockery than there has been with his previous work. More than anything he’s ever done before, there’s an obvious talent to his direction, with much more attention to style and cinematography than in any of his previous work.
Almost all the characters in it are portrayed with a real sense of empathy, and the film constantly works to ensure it gets across their point of view and that they remain fully fleshed-out as people. Marchánt Davis is particularly impressive as Moses, and he is clearly headed for much bigger things in the future. Here is a character who believes that Bin Laden was invented by Western paranoia, who thinks there’s still Dinosaurs, and who holds up ‘the black Santa Claus’ as one of his greatest idols, and yet he’s never as completely ridiculed as you might expect from Morris, or from just a brief description of his character. He has a screw or two loose, but the film never loses sight of making sure you understand where he’s coming from, or why he does what he does. Anna Kendrick also impresses as the FBI agent who first starts following Moses, even if she is essentially playing much the same character she always does, and the paedophile informer played byFour Lions’ Kayvan Novak is probably the most out there and ridiculous character in the whole thing.
There’s a lot going on here that is really good, but it does often feel like this has been billed as a comedy simply due to this being what Morris is best known for and has always done. The material never once reaches the delirious heights of stuff like Four Lions, and it’s by far the more serious, dramatic moments that have the most impact.