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STUDIO Cohen Media Group
RUNNING TIME 95 Minutes
• Interview with director Ziad Doueiri
• Photo Gallery
How well do you know the person you married?
Ali Suliman, Evgenia Dodena
Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), an Israeli Palestinian surgeon, fully assimilated into Tel Aviv society, has a loving wife, an exemplary career, and many Jewish friends. But his picture-perfect life is turned upside down when a suicide bombing leaves nineteen dead, and the Israeli police inform him that his wife Sivan (Evgenia Dodena), who also died in the explosion, was responsible. Convinced of her innocence, Amin abandons the relative security of his adopted homeland and searches for the truth about her life and death, uncovering a startling secret.
In contemporary American action films, we see lots of exposition, globetrotting, conspiracies, twists, double-crossings, and forehead-smacking “mystery box” reveals. Films like Skyfall and Captain America: The Winter Solider manage to juggle all of these things with a fair bit of grace, but films like The Dark Knight Rises and Star Trek Into Darkness confused narrative complexity with real intrigue. When American audiences go to the cinema, we want to feel intrigue, but I’m beginning to feel like most action thrillers are only capable of generating a comfortable level of befuddlement and betrayal that is forgiven by the end credits.
If The Attack had been adapted to cater to American audiences, one could see how easy it would have been to take the stunning premise and turn it into one man’s journey to get to the bottom of a massive conspiracy. Yet, what actually unfolds in The Attack is much simpler; more raw and challenging (and ultimately riveting) than most big-budget American thrillers I’ve seen in several years.
The reason Ziad Doueiri’s film is able to connect so effectively is that despite the central mystery, there is no race to the finish line, no ticking time-bomb to propel the film toward its climax. Instead, Doueiri’s method is to let the plot beats unfold in a manner that feels organic but timely (the film is only ninety-five minutes), and land the narrative punches squarely in your gut. Some of these “punch” moments are incredibly difficult to watch, especially in the film’s first half-hour when we see Amin quickly and expertly dealing with the grievous injuries of his patients, which then contrasts with a quietly devastating moment when he is brought to the morgue to identify a body. The body is never fully or explicitly shown (it is draped under a shroud), but we can see that there isn’t much of a body at all. I gasped when it was slid out of the morgue refrigerator. It’s a hell of a moment, and while the film gets its more shocking content out of the way early, there are still plenty of beautifully crafted moments that keep The Attack’s emotional stakes in the foreground.
In the background, we get a troubling but poignant look at the contempt between Israelis and Palestinians, and the film makes its stance on the matter known in the first few minutes. “Every Jew is a bit of an Arab, and no Arab can deny he’s a bit Jewish”, says Amin in an award acceptance speech early in the film. The crowd chuckles knowingly. While I don’t feel particularly qualified to have an opinion on the Israel/Palestine situation, I identify with the film’s humanitarian theses: that we are not so different, and that prejudice can grow even in the most unlikely areas of our lives.
The film’s other gnawing ideas are more universal: just how well do you know the person you married? What are they capable of? What do they do when you’re not around? Are they a stranger in your home? As an American with neither the heritage nor the education to understand the sociopolitical climate of Israel, this idea of spousal mistrust is perhaps what frightens me the most (aside from the violence and religious extremism) about The Attack. Amin and Sivan’s complicated relationship is established almost entirely through flashbacks and daydreams, and instead of feeling like a hackneyed exposition device, they feel necessary to understand what Amin is going through. Some of the romantic flashbacks border on maudlin, but others seem raw and human, especially when the two lie naked on their tangled sheets, sharing a joint.
In one of these flashbacks, Sivan makes excuses to Amin as to why she won’t be attending his award ceremony. In the scene, Doueiri employs a discomfiting technique by making Sivan’s lips not match her spoken dialogue. It can’t be an error or poor ADR, it’s obviously intentional, because the scene’s foley work and sound effects match the action perfectly. It’s a very potent moment, and something viewers might find jarring, but the implications are pretty obvious: Sivan is lying. She’s literally saying something entirely different from what we hear. It’s in the smaller moments that Doueiri makes his technical prowess apparent, but in technical terms the entire film works extraordinarily well. The score by Éric Neveux eschews traditional Middle Eastern sounds, instead using synths and guitar to create a contemporary mood that doesn’t evoke thoughts of religion. The entire film is well shot and lit, and the rhythm of the editing works in concert with the understated performances to maximize dramatic impact.
Impact is what The Attack does best, which isn’t to say that it lacks intelligence or subtlety. It’s a simple, straightforward narrative about very complex and ugly things. It’s brutal, but not sadistic. It’s sorrowful, but doesn’t employ melodrama to get its points across. While some may find its political stance naïve or its performances a little too understated, the power of The Attack is that it doesn’t need a conspiracy, a twist-laden story, or a time-bomb plot device to keep you interested. It won’t be for everyone, but it sure as hell worked for me.
When it comes to the transfer, most of the film looks great. Black levels are deep and sharpness is right where it should be. There is some pretty distracting banding during a few scenes that take place in low light against gray walls, but you won’t see it often. There are two audio tracks on the disc: a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and a Dolby Digital 5.1. While the DTS-HD track will definitely be the choice for those of us with amazing surround systems, the Dolby track is excellent as well.
Considering that Ziad Doueiri is fluent in English, I’m disappointed that the disc doesn’t feature a commentary from him. The interview featurette isn’t even five minutes long, and barely scratches the surface. The photo gallery and trailer certainly don’t add much, so due to a lack of extras, I’m giving this disc a rating of:
Out of a Possible 5 Stars