Film Review – The Attack
In Ziad Doueiri‘s The Attack, trying to use a personal story to get at the larger issues of the Israeli and Palestinian fighting creates an unsatisfying result. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is a Palestinian doctor whose great life in Israel is shattered when his wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem), is accused of being behind a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv restaurant. Amin fights this, believing that his wife was simply a victim, but when new evidence comes forward, he starts to question everything.
The tension from Amin at the start of the story, being in shock and not believing his wife can be involved, is created well. His anger at how he is treated is real and visceral. The exhaustion and depression at the way the society that praised him just a day ago turns on him is shown clearly on his face and in the tone of his voice. He is intriguing to watch, and I wanted to see where this would all lead.
However, when Amin begins questioning his wife’s involvement, the film gets bogged down in him just being angry and becomes boring to watch. These scenes intermix with flashbacks of Amin’s time with Siham, or him imagining conversations with her. The flashbacks come at odd times and can be jarring thematically, especially since they add little to the overall sense of who Siham was or Amin’s feelings towards her. Amin is essentially the same all through the film, making him uninteresting. There is no deeper understanding. Even when Amin attempts to get answers about his wife, it doesn’t tell the viewer more about him. Plus, most of what he gets are comments about how we can never know what is in the hearts of individuals thinking of a greater cause. The speeches on this matter are very weak and long-winded, with little real insight. This was frustrating, because the subject matter is ripe for debate and is instead reduced to comments about how anyone can snap or have anger build up inside them.
This approach to the material would have been fine if the filmmakers wanted to keep it a mystery about individuals and talk about the unknowing nature of people. But we are told some things about Siham, and what we are told makes her motivations less interesting and undoes much of what the movie has built up to at that point. This information is supposed to affect Amin, yet it is very muted moment, and his reaction doesn’t feel earned and is more confusing than insightful.
What is ultimately frustrating here is that we the viewers and Amin are supposed to learn something about this conflict and personal choices. Yet there is no big revelation that changes anything, and, even worse, there are no open-ended questions to really think about. Amin seems to be thinking new things, but what makes this change is barely shown on screen, making it less meaningful. Siham remains too unknown to be seen as either a dark, twisted person or a helpless victim who is brainwashed, or even somewhere in the middle of these two. In the end, the film just ends.
Only a few moments really touch on the larger conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians fighting over their homelands. If the film wants to provide a message on the pain of this conflict, it fails to add anything new, or even present the information in a different way. We get some Palestinians preaching that Israel shouldn’t exist, and some moments of Israelis being brutal in the way they investigate individuals. Most of these speeches and scenes are so over the top that they didn’t stir any real reaction from me. Sadly, the film actually avoids getting into the details and fears behind these feelings, and so the end effect is too muted to stir up real questions about this conflict.
While decently acted, the odd structure and muddled message of The Attack make it hard to embrace. What Doueiri was going for seems to be using individuals as allegorical figures for a very long conflict. Yet his individuals are not fascinating enough to watch for a whole film, and their reactions do not give us anything new to think about. The issues are too complex to be sprawled out this broadly or expect that depth can be gleaned just because the starting point is horrifying. There are moments that work, but they don’t build enough to make this as insightful a film as it wants to be.
Final Grade: C