When thinking about the current social and political climates in pretty much every corner of the world these days, it’s probably fair to say that if you didn’t find the time to laugh about it, you would never stop crying. This is where satire can come in and bridge the gap for us. Having already proved that he can satirise with the best of them in 2010’s Four Lions, filmmaker Chris Morris is back at it once again with some familiar themes in a distinctly different setting.
The Day Shall Come tells the story of Moses Al Shabazz (Marchánt Davis), the eccentric leader of a small religious commune in Miami who, along with his handful of followers, finds himself under the eye of the FBI who are cynically looking for a target to turn into a full blown terrorist threat that can be used to pin criminal activities on.
Like any great satire, the film makes you feel uncomfortable and entertained in equal measure, even if it doesn’t quite provide the same amount of gritty, reality check gut punches that the aforementioned Four Lions did a decade ago. Whereas the protagonists in that film are bumbling but aware of their terrorist plans, Moses and his recruits are instead seen much more as figures of sympathy, unaware of the fate that Agent Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) and co. are leading them into. In this sense, the film feels much more scathing towards actions and behaviours on the ‘right’ side of the law rather than the wrong.
The tragic irony of The Day Shall Come is that the characters at the heart of the story would not be dangerous without the interference of the higher powers. Moses’s mission statement begins with an anti-gun declaration, and over the course of ninety minutes the audience witness various manipulations that end with a botched deal for dozens of assault rifles. They believe they can destroy building cranes with their minds, they own a horn that if used, they believe will bring dinosaurs to their aid. In other words, harmless. It’s the kind of film that forces you to consider who the real bad guys are in any given situation, plays with the discussion of whether all manifestoed sects should be considered dangerous, lots of big questions that on the whole are explored well.
Importantly, there is a strong level of black humour throughout, a touch of In The Loop, a touch of Veep, more than a touch, of course, of Four Lions. I appreciate the film for sticking to its melancholy essence and not opting for a shiny, happy ending. It would have been easy to try to sugarcoat the plot for a more pleasant climax, but the message and impact remain stronger and more poignant when something more realistic and less absurd caps off a story that up to that point is quite surreal and far-fetched. Something that comes to mind for comparison is the slap in the face that was the end of BlacKkKlansman, although I will say that Spike Lee’s film feels much more searing and assured of itself.
The film is fronted by a really endearing, empathetic performance by Marchánt Davis. As Moses Al Shabazz, Davis is funny and oddly warm, even when railing against things like the “accidental dominance of the white race” (is he wrong, by the way?). The character in itself if over the top and somewhat farcical, but that makes the twist of the narrative knife even more sharp when the audience start to understand the inevitable direction of the plot. There is something almost childlike and innocent about Moses, a man who refuses to take his prescribed anti psychotic medication. For such a far fetched character, it is testament to the quality of Marchánt’s performance that viewers are able to strike a real connection with him.
Danielle Brook’s of Orange Is The New Black fame gives an effective performance as Venus, Moses’ sceptical wife, a character who provides *some* sort of reason and roundedness within Moses’s world and organisation. On the FBI side of things, Anna Kendrick gets to show off some her natural comedy timing as Agent Glack, an interesting character in the sense that she provides a lot of humour whilst still being one of the key orchestrators in the morally discreditable framing of Moses. Denis O’Hare also adds to that vibe as Glack’s boss, the two playing off each other really effectively.
Overall, The Day Shall Come is a dark comic satire that, whilst packing a small punch, doesn’t quite hit you in the face in the same way that Four Lions did. I’m not saying that the two need to be regarded as inseparable companion pieces, but the connecting factor of Chris Morris certainly means something. Perhaps nine years on we are even more sensitive than we were? Perhaps the American angle demands a softer touch than the British? Whatever it is, the fact remains that The Day Shall Come is a ‘good’ satire experience, but with a few more unrestrained slaps here and there, it could have tipped over into ‘great’.