Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Ali Suliman, Evgenia Dodena, Reymond Amsalem, Uri Gavriel
Based on the novel by Yasmina Khadra
Co-Written & Directed by Ziad Doueiri (Lila Says, West Beirut)
The Attack (opening today) is a compelling and timely film, focusing on a husband’s quest to discover the truth about his wife and his own marriage. It’s a gripping story – perhaps one of the most intriguing premises of the year – that disappoints in its inability to build into something more than just your run-of-the-mill drama.
Still, The Attack is deeply effective in raising pertinent questions about the lengths terrorists will go to carry out their missions. It also sheds light on the effects of their terror not only on their direct victims, but those on the fringes of the created chaos who must pick up the pieces.
When we first meet Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), we see that he is about to win a major award in the field of medicine. It is a significant achievement not only on its own merit, but because this doctor is an Arab who works inside Israel. Before he gets the award, he receives a phone call from his wife, whom he quickly rushes off the phone since he is due up on stage. This would be the last contact he would have with his wife.
The next day, a suicide bomber kills 17 – mostly children - just outside of Tel Aviv. He is called in to care for many of the victims but then discovers the unthinkable: His wife was not only among the casualties, but she is the primary suspect.
How could this person – his wife – be capable of such a thing right under his nose? There must be some sort of mistake. Right?
A superb supporting cast and clever dialogue help The Attack in propelling the story along as Amin goes on a rogue search for clues to what may have happened and what could have caused his wife to do something so heinous. The authorities investigating the bombing can't believe that Amin wasn't involved as well. This is where the film downgrades from stunning masterpiece-in-the-making to just plain, but still interesting, melodrama.
The middle third of the film plays like an episode of Law & Order, where our protagonist jumps from one clue and one key suspect to another as he follows the breadcrumbs toward his final goal. Ali Suliman creates a layered character worth following around, but it isn’t until the film's final scenes where things become clear. That's OK, but as climax is concerned, it's a bit underwhelming: The major shock comes near the beginning and the rest of the film, dramatically, plays catch up.
It's a smart choice that we never really see Amin's wife, and their relationship. It helps that we don't see them together, because we want to believe, like Amin, that this is some sort of conspiracy against her and that she's innocent. It also keeps us focused on the story the film is presenting instead of having us feeling sympathy for this lost soul.
Getting caught up in The Attack is easy, yet by the film's end it just seems to not have the impact that it should have. It's still one of the better imports of the year and it does delve into some important issues. Instead of saying something politically powerful though, it chooses to sidestep any conclusions or points of view. Compelling yes, but somehow it feels off target.
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