A long awaited follow up to the British king of satire’s Four Lions, The Day Shall Come is a quite brief, sporadically amusing return that was on the whole a bit disappointing.
In Miami, collective/cult leader Moses Al Shabazz (Marchant Davis) preaches a very specific and quite bizarre gospel to a small group of followers including his wife Venus (Danielle Brooks) and their kids. With the FBI desperate to make their arrest and prosecution records for terrorism better, field agent Kendra (Anna Kendrick) sees Moses as the perfect patsy to frame – but underestimates the man and his clearly delusional manner.
Chris Morris is responsible for some of the most shockingly effective satire in UK media history, from The Day Today and Brass Eye through to the hilarious Four Lions. So nearly 10 years after the latter, hearing he had a new film out was very exciting, and it’s a shame to report that this – despite the clear increase in budget and star power on going to the US – is disappointingly blunt and quite frankly not as funny as expected.
The main story is based, the opening titles tell us, on hundreds of true stories, which you would think gives whatever follows an anchor in reality. I think the problem here is that despite Morris’ clearly impressive direction – and the sporadically hilarious script by him and Jesse Armstrong – the briefness of the film, coupled with being based on such an offbeat and largely unknown series of injustices, works against it.
This film is funny, and often hilarious, but in bite size chunks. The satire is clear from moment one – particularly in a failed FBI sting early on – but it hurts the film that this particularly narrow focus is honestly something most viewers won’t have a clue about. Four Lions hit home so well because we’re all unfortunately aware of homegrown radicalisation and terrorism – this subject not so much!
In a way, The Day Shall Come is almost too satirical for its own good, lampooning a lot of elements of real life very effectively but then coming up against the sheer overload of US based crime and authority based media we’re used to. This means that elements that almost seem over the top (specifically including nuclear materials) aren’t as amusing because it almost feels too Americanised – in a media sense – to be realistic.
I think also that here we have a sympathetic target for the authorities, which means the satire feels a little meaner and has less to hold it up when the humour comes in. Moses is patently an unwell man who eschews violence, so the harsher elements of the FBI bullshit are a little more unfair in that light. It also means that it’s less absurd than you might expect, but that would have meant it was funnier in the long run.
Technically this film is very capable, with music curated by Morris, Sebastian Rochford and Jonathan Whitehead effectively setting the scene and the drama, letting the dialogue heavy scenes breathe without intrustion. Marcel Zyskind utilises the sun baked Dominican Republic (standing in for Miami) to present the film’s environments as authentically ramshackle or swish (the commune’s “farm” and the FBI headquarters respectively). Editor Billy Sneddon accentuates Morris’ mockumentary style cameras and angles with cuts that highlight the humour and in their own way satirise the fetishisation of the FBI (or general law enforcement) in US made media (emergency vehicle platoons and SWAT teams alike).
Davis is sympathetic and almost childlike at times as Moses, and he handles the often bizarre elements of the character (and what happens to him) with a deft ability to make you laugh at him while also feeling sympathy. Kendrick is her usually sassy, snappy self, excellently delivering some of the meatiest and most hilarious lines and moments but tinged with a hint of self doubt and moral centre.
Of the secondary cast, Danielle Brooks is the straight woman to Moses and the humanising factor, the actress a mix of exasperated and despondent as her character fails to get through to her husband. Denis O’Hare is perhaps the most amusing character as Kendra’s FBI boss, running the line from exasperated manager to devious conspirator, seeming to care more about his social life than the lives his policies are set to ruin.
Also worth mentioning are Kayvan Novak’s bizarre sex offender FBI mole, Pej Vahdat’s more professional counterpart (and their icy disregard for one another) and Malcolm May’s permanently stony faced cult member X, who just wants to start the race war Moses obliquely hints at. Finally, Miles Robbins’ Josh feels like a douchey drop in from an American The Thick of It, filled with male braggadocio and not much else.
I was hoping for more from this film, but as it’s quite short and gets to the point quickly – with some laughs – it deserves some credit. It’s just a shame Morris hasn’t been able to hit the heights of Four Lions again.