With his everyman appearance and demeanor, Suliman is a stand-in for any one of us whose life could be turned upside down in the blink of an eye.
Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is a highly respected Israeli Palestinian surgeon living in Tel Aviv. Though his cultural heritage marks him as an outsider, he has been fully embraced by the Jewish citizens of his adopted home and has even been awarded one of the highest honors bestowed by the medical community of Israel. But his world is irrevocably shattered when his wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem), is killed in a suicide bombing attack and the local police are convinced she was, in fact, the bomber.
Amin can’t believe Siham would commit such an atrocity. She was Palestinian, like him, but she wasn’t a radical Muslim; in fact, she was a practicing Christian. What reason would she have to bomb a restaurant full of Israeli people? Though Amin refuses to believe his wife would be capable of committing this horrendous act, he can’t deny the evidence that is put in front of him. In order to clear his wife’s name—and, by extension, his own—Amin begins investigating who his wife really was.
The Attack, from writer/director Ziad Doueiri, is by far one of the most viscerally engaging films I’ve seen in a long time, with the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more tangible than ever. Doueiri, who wrote the script with Joelle Touma based on the novel by Yasmina Khadra, fixes his focus not on the global impact of this bloody history, but on the ways it affects individuals day to day. In the back of his mind, Amin knows many people think he doesn’t belong in Tel Aviv, but for the most part he is accepted, working and living like any other citizen. After the attack, though, his heritage as a Palestinian covers him like a shroud through which his true person cannot be seen.
Doueiri crafts his film more as a detective story than a thriller. Neither Amin nor the audience truly knows what happened or whether Siham is to blame. As the clues are gathered, we watch Amin try to piece together the events leading up to his wife’s death. He is trying to prove the life he shared with her for over 15 years wasn’t a sham, and that the woman who shared his bed wasn’t a total stranger. Doueiri brilliantly makes Amin a reluctant hero by contrasting his societal outlook before the bombing and after. Before the attack, he does everything he can to blend in and stay unnoticed. Afterward, however, he no longer feels that restraint and begins flipping over every stone he can, no matter whom it pisses off.
As Amin, Suliman gives a magnificent performance, keeping his anger just below the surface through most of the film. Amin must keep control of himself if he wants answers, and Suliman shows us how truly difficult that would be. With his everyman appearance and demeanor, Suliman is a stand-in for any one of us whose life could be turned upside down in the blink of an eye. We never see Amin as anything other than a grieving husband who is looking for answers. Suliman embodies him perfectly and gives the film its emotional punch.
While I enjoyed nearly every directorial decision made by Doueiri, I did have trouble with his overly verité approach to the cinematography. In an effort to add a sense of reality to the film, Doueiri chooses to film on location and to use only natural light. While this intention is commendable, there are many scenes (too many, in fact) in which the characters and action are cloaked in so much darkness and shadows that what is happening is impossible to discern. No major plot points are ruined, but is does become distracting, especially late in the film.
The Attack is a terrifically complex film that examines a very painful and important issue. In the end, the film take a unique and bold stand by refusing to label any one side as “the bad guys” because, like in life, that label is usually subjective and ever-changing. | Matthew Newlin