The Day Shall Come is sharp satire but misses its mark
The Day Shall Come is the second feature from Chris Morris (Four Lions), who runs in the same British comedy circle as Armando Iannucci and his co-writer on this film, Jesse Armstrong (Succession). This film covers similar ground to Four Lions, but satirizing anti-terrorist law enforcement instead of Islamic terrorism itself, and Morris and Armstrong move the setting to our side of the Atlantic. Sadly, to mixed results. The satire here is sharp, but it doesn’t always feel like Morris and Armstrong have a deep enough understanding of where their blades should be directed.
The film opens with Moses Al Shabaz (Marchánt Davis) preaching as part of an impoverished four-person commune in Miami (four people including Al Shabaz and his wife). He preaches an amalgamation of monotheistic religious teachings, as well as more outsider things that range from belief in telekinetic power to sanctifying Black Santa Claus and Toussaint L'Ouverture. While he believes in some form of black uprising, he also is vehemently opposed to firearms. It becomes clear very early on that Al Shabaz and his followers are certainly radical, but harmless, with little motivation to do anything except to keep the commune going so his two other followers don’t return to dealing drugs. Sadly, most of this aspect of the film seems to be played for laughs.
The plot gets set in motion as an FBI team tries to redeem themselves for a sting going wrong (which is one of the funniest scenes in the film) when an operative Kendra (Anna Kendrick) suggests setting up Al Shabaz as a patsy after seeing one of his Facebook videos. The FBI sends Reza (Kayvan Novak)–a Syrian national who would be in jail for being a pedophile if not for his cooperation with the government–to try to sell guns to Moses and his commune. At a meeting with Reza and a fake sheikh, Moses only asks for farm equipment and a horse, but is talked into accepting guns in order to get cash. Kendra and her team set up a sting, but Moses shows up at their office, wanting to turn in Reza and the sheikh in exchange for money. Things spiral more and more out of control from there.
And while all of this sounds like it could be done well, the film lacks enoughempathy for Moses and his family to create discomfort rather than laughter. Watching it made me feel that Morris and Armstrong’s film might work better as a British story, because it feels like it is making as much fun of Moses (and he is delusional, yes, but his beliefs are not unjustifiably motivated, and he’s doing earnest work and preaching absolute non-violence) as it is the incompetent FBI and other law enforcement teams. Compared to a film like Sorry to Bother You or Blindspotting, The Day Shall Come feels shallow and misguided, without being funny enough to overcome that lack of understanding. Additionally, the parts of the films that are easier to laugh at also rarely connect. There are some Veep-style barbs here, but the cast never seems to find the rhythm inherently necessary to deliver such colorful metaphors.
I definitely believe Morris and Armstrong to be well-intentioned (the Animal House-style reveal of the characters' fates beyond the end of the film reinforces that), but after seeing some inventive and incisive films from African American filmmakers in the past year or so, their view of the same issues feels out of touch. Which is a shame because the ideas around the FBI and the absurdities of trying to get potential terrorists to commit crimes in a controlled environment rather than waiting for them to act for real feels ripe for satire. But there are parts of this movie that are just plain hard to laugh at because I couldn’t get beyond the potential consequences for the unarmed characters who have guns pointed at them because of their skin color, when we know the FBI knows exactly how harmless they are. There’s no mistaken identity at play (this isn’t like the 30 Rock episode where Liz Lemon reports two men who are simply practicing for The Amazing Race), so it undercuts the comedy. That is a potential risk for having the most biting satire, but it ultimately hurts this film.
The Day Shall Come is now playing at the Ritz Bourse.