The protagonist of The Attack is a character that we haven’t really met before in movies coming out of the Middle East: a Palestinian Arab who has successfully integrated into Israeli society.
As the film opens, Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is being feted in Tel Aviv with a prominent medical award – he’s the first non-Israeli winner – and sits in high esteem among his co-workers.
We see him doing a brilliant job operating on the victims of a restaurant bomb blast, and it’s quickly made clear how a job with such life-or-death urgency could lead to a man losing touch with the other aspects of his life.
That sense of obliviousness is the dramatic pivot point for The Attack, which transforms in short order from a character study to a topsy-turvy thriller.
Amin is informed that his wife Siham (Reymond Amsalem) has died in the blast (he thought that she was out of town) and what’s more, that her wounds are consistent with those of a suicide bomber.
The good doctor’s grief is compounded by his shock and disbelief that his partner had secretly been radicalized behind his back.
Reeling from the news and feeling guilty over his failure to recognize his wife’s double life, he’s brutalized by a local police captain (Uri Gavriel) who insists that he must have been in on the plot all along.
Lebanese co-writer/director Ziad Doueiri uses this
scenario to make a point about the tensions in contemporary Israeli society: Amin’s professional stature does nothing to insulate him against the skepticism of his friends and colleagues.
Suliman is excellent as a man trying to make sense of a violent rupture in his personal life, and The Attack succeeds in getting inside his anguished headspace (the flashbacks to his first meeting with Siham are disarmingly sexy, which adds an extra tinge to the tragedy).
Where Doueri falters, however, is in sending Amin on a journey to confront the terrorists who converted Siham to the jihadist cause.
It’s set up as a descent into the heart of darkness, but it ends up playing out in pallid shades of grey.
If the director is admirably reluctant to demonize Siham’s West Bank contacts, he also stops short of really analyzing or identifying with their rage.
This middle-ground approach could be construed as thoughtful subtlety, but it feels more like bet-hedging.
Despite its explosive subject matter, the movie has been carefully calibrated not to offend anybody.
Doueri got his start as a camera operator for Quentin Tarantino, and he’s a skilled image-maker.
The Attack is beautifully shot and effectively edited, with lyrical passages that are all the more striking for being placed within an otherwise realist presentation.
The filmmaking is persuasive, but the film is strangely middling.
It’s as if, by cornering both sides of a very passionate argument, Doueri has left himself with nothing to say.