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Movies about Palestinians and Israelis caught in Israel’s martial borderlands seem to be a dime a dozen these days. The situation is so volatile that it’s only natural filmmakers would tap into the drama. Unfortunately, it’s a well that has been tapped so many times before that it’s hard to sustain a sense of shock and outrage.

Nevertheless, The Attack does pretty well for itself with a moving story about an unlikely perpetrator of a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv.

Best Day of His Life

Amin tries to reassemble the rubble
Amin tries to reassemble the rubble

Amin (Ali Suliman) is having the best day of his career, maybe of his life. An Arab, he’s receiving the highest honor that Israel can bestow on a doctor like him. His wife calls just as he’s being called to give his acceptance speech. The call lasts only 8 seconds and it ends with him saying he’ll have to call her back. He won’t know until tomorrow that it was the last time he’ll ever hear her voice.

Amin thinks his wife Siham is away for a couple of nights, so the next day Amin gets up, goes to work, and has a normal morning. Over his lunch break, he hears an explosion somewhere in the city and soon there are ambulances arriving with the dead and wounded from a suicide attack. After a long day of trauma he goes to bed, only to be awoken and asked to return to the hospital at 3:20 in the morning. But this time it’s not to help the wounded, it’s to identify a body....

One of The Attack ‘s powerhouse scenes is Amin slowly walking toward the morgue, seeing the partial human figure under the sheet, and looking to see if it is Siham.

From the morgue, Amin is taken by car to be interrogated. A random cutaway to a worker in an office building, shot from Amin’s point of view, suggests the randomness of life, the little details that will get etched into his brain from a day he cannot yet comprehend.

Into the Past

The police assume Amin is complicit in his wife’s attack. He gets the full “not-quite-torture” treatment that Western democracies seem to have sanctioned — sleep deprivation, beatings, solitary confinement. Instead of sympathy, his coworkers offer him an invitation to get the hell out of “their” country. It was easy for Amin to preach harmony after winning his award. One wonders whether most Arab citizens of Israel have similar stories to tell, of being seen as both living proof of the Israel’s inclusivity; and also as the maligned other, depending on the news cycle. One of Amin’s friends remains true to him longer than the others, a wise woman named Kim (Evgenia Dodena) who advises him not to listen to the haters.

What Amin really needs is to understand if — and if so, how — his wife, a well-to-do secular woman from a wealthy family and a comfortable upper-middle-class life could have become radicalized.

A well-used flashback and fantasy structure gives Reymond Amsalem a lot of screen time as Amin’s wife Siham. Amin’s search takes him across the checkpoints into occupied territories where her family is. He meets an uncle, a niece, and that nephew who had come to stay with them in Tel Aviv. Through them he digs deeper, finding first a Muslim cleric, then a Christian priest who might have convinced her to do this thing. Another of the film’s great scenes involves Amin finding a picture of his wife in an unlikely place, and if you haven’t seen the trailer I won’t spoil it for you.

Outrage Fatigue

The Attack is a little unsatisfying because it doesn’t offer any answers. But of course that’s the point — there are no satisfying answers. At the root, there is only conflict, and no matter how high you rise above it, it’s impossible to be completely removed.

A friend and fellow critic recommended The Attack to me as one of his favorite films of the year. I’m afraid the praise raised my expectations a little too high and the film didn’t live up. Not that The Attack a disappointment — it’s very good in just about every scene. But I wasn’t as overpowered and wrung out as I expected to be after a film like this.

With everything happening in the Middle East, it’s a little hard not to have outrage fatigue.

Blu-ray Extras

The blu-ray release from Cohen Media Group includes a photo gallery, a trailer (with lots of spoilers), and very short interview with director Ziad Doueiri conducted by Richard Peña of the New York Film Festival. The interview touches on Doueiri’s background and influences. There are also many trailers for other titles available from Cohen Media.

How to Use This Disc

Don’t watch the trailer before you watch the film. Afterwards, watch the five-minute interview.