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Posts Tagged ‘Marchant Davis’

The actor, writer, director and much else Chris Morris surely landed himself a place on the worth-keeping-an-eye-on list of any sensible person many, many years ago, following his work on On the Hour, The Day Today, Brass Eye, Jam, and much else – this is before we even get to his 2009 movie Four Lions, a film which takes some of the most dubious subject matter imaginable and still manages to be thoughtful, touching, and above all very funny. Suffice to say that expectations were high for his new film, The Day Shall Come. It should not come as a great surprise that the new film has been written, directed, and co-produced by Morris himself; he’s that sort of perfectionist – nor should it really be a shock that much of the film was apparently made in secret in the Dominican Republic, given that Morris was briefly something of a hate-figure for the British tabloid press.

Not on the poster but still the biggest performer in the film (in terms of profile if not actual stature) is Anna Kendrick, who plays FBI agent Kendra Glack. Based out of Miami, Glack is predominantly concerned with a peculiar string of operations where the FBI, for reasons of publicity and political expediency, engages in what is obviously entrapment of a string of nobodies, encouraging them to commit terror-related offenses so they can then swoop in and heroically arrest them at the last minute. No-one on the team seems minded to question the deeply compromised nature of their activities.

Next up on the task force’s list of targets is Moses Al Shabazz (Marchant Davis), who may be a cult leader, might be a preacher, is definitely a psychiatric patient who’s stopped taking his meds, but certainly isn’t any kind of threat to the fabric of society (no matter how fondly he thinks of himself as one). Moses lives in a commune/mission/farm in the middle of the Miami projects, practising a bizarre syncretic religion venerating an amalgamation of Jesus, Allah, ‘Black Santa’ and General Toussaint L’Ouverture. At first he seems a hapless, delusional figure, but one of the points the film makes (if perhaps not strongly enough) is that he has, in a small way, been a force for social good, persuading a number of young men to give up their gang lifestyle and guns and join his ‘movement’; he is also clearly a loving husband and father.

Still, farming in inner-city Miami is not exactly booming and the commune is forced to live off discarded food scavenged from local fast food restaurants, while there is also the issue of paying the rent on the mission building. And thus Moses falls into the orbit of the FBI and its network of collaborators and informants. Completely against his principles and the wishes of his wife (Danielle Brooks), Moses finds himself urged to engage in all kinds of dubious dealings – accepting guns from fictitious IS-supporting sheikhs, acting as middle-man in sales of nuclear material, and so on, in exchange for rent money for his home. But can he actually go through with it? And if he does, are the authorities competent enough to actually arrest their man?

You can definitely see the similarities between The Day Shall Come and Four Lions – Moses and his followers are the same kind of hapless fantasists as the earlier film’s wannabe jihadist martyrs – but I regret to say that it seems to me that the new film falls considerably short of the same standards. To be honest, it’s the first thing I can remember Morris being responsible for which is actually sub-par, in the sense that you can kind of see what it’s trying to do, but it’s also very clear that it’s just not succeeding.

You can see the film comes from a serious place, wanting to explore and expose the absurd workings of the American justice system, and doubtless also touch on issues of race and prejudice in modern America. But the thing is the film is also obviously attempting to function as a genuine comedy as well. There’s nothing wrong with doing comedy about serious issues, especially if you’re a satirist (which is probably one of the things Morris has on his passport), but with any kind of comedy the bottom line is that you have to be funny. That’s the entry fee, the sine qua non of the form. The Day Shall Come is just not consistently funny enough to work on those terms. There are certainly some amusing moments, and you can make out the kind of absurdist, Kafkaesque satire it probably wants to be – but, and these are words I never really expected to be typing, Morris seems to be trying a bit too hard to court a mainstream audience, including various sight-gags and other obvious bits of business, presumably to compensate for the fact that much of the plot is relatively complex and serious. It’s okay to be funny about serious issues; many great films have been the result. But far too often The Day Shall Come is just self-consciously silly, and the resulting tonal mismatch really does the film no favours at all.

It’s also a problem that the film never quite takes off as a piece of cinema, either – obviously, there is a developing storyline which builds up to a proper climax, but this always feels rather more like a string of comedy sketches of varying quality. For a film about such American issues, it always feels curiously British in sensibility, regardless of the fact the only British performer prominent in it is Kayvan Novak. It also feels like a film which is concerned with issues which would have felt much more urgent ten or fifteen years ago – if you want to do satire about the US government now, well, good luck in finding a way to be more depressingly absurd than reality: the inner workings of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security really feel like quite small potatoes.

Still, Morris clearly feels quite passionate about this, even if it’s hard to share his commitment to it. I’m struggling to find very positive things to say, obviously, but the film does manage to hold together as a narrative and you can glimpse the clever, absurd film he was looking to create. I should also say that Anna Kendrick is obviously working immensely hard to lift the material she has been given. Passion and hard work can only take you so far, though. It’s a little difficult to work out what exactly has gone wrong with The Day Shall Come, beyond the fact that it’s just not funny or clever enough, but go wrong it certainly has.

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