Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is a respected Arab surgeon living in a Jewish country. He has earned a place of prestige in a hospital in Tel Aviv. In the opening moments of The Attack, a riveting film from director Ziad Doueiri, Amin is accepting an award for his accomplishments in the Israeli medical community. His wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem) is strangely absent from the ceremony, visiting with her grandfather. We suspect there may be some marital discord between the couple.
The next afternoon, there is an explosion in a local restaurant. The blast shakes the doctor’s lounge at Amin’s hospital. Soon, the flow of trauma patients begins, and he finds himself working on countless dying children who were attending a birthday party when the bomb detonated. Returning to his home exhausted, Amin discovers that Siham has not returned from family visit. When he calls her cell phone, it rings inside their home, leaving him with no means to contact her.
In the early hours before dawn, Amin receives a telephone call from a colleague asking him to return to the hospital. He assures Amin it is not an emergency, but his presence is mandatory. When he arrives, the acclaimed surgeon is asked to identify his wife’s remains that were found at the scene of the restaurant bombing. Unable to comprehend why his wife would be at the scene, Amin is informed that her injuries are consistent with those of a suicide bomber. Not only is his wife dead, but law enforcement believes that she may actually be the perpetrator.
So begins Amin’s journey to determine if his wife committed such a horrific crime. Along the way, he is forced to confront his own ethnic identity and learns that he is a man without a country, someone who is embraced by neither side of the conflict raging around him. As an Arab surgeon living in a Jewish state, he is tolerated by his colleagues due to his significant medical talent, but he learns that he isn’t entirely trusted by his adopted home. To the Arabs, Amin is a sellout, a teacher’s pet to the Jews, who has turned his back on his countrymen. His life is his work and his wife, and in the blink of an eye, he is stripped of both.
There have been many films that ask how well we know our loved ones. They are usually films focused on marital infidelity or addictions that take place in the dark recesses of our lives. The Attack offers a chilling, extreme example of this theme. Is your spouse capable of committing mass murder? How can you share your life and your bed with someone and never truly know them? Are you somehow complicit in your spouse’s crimes because you didn’t see the truth of what was happening in your own life?
Ali Suliman gives a tremendous performance as a man whose world is crumbling around him. His emotions swing from disbelief to denial to anger to resignation that his life was never what he thought it was. The screenplay by Ziad Doueiri and Joelle Touma takes a balanced look at the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The film does not think in terms of crimes, criminals and terrorism, but instead gives the audience a look inside a religious war where violence has simply become a way of life.
The Attack makes a near-perfect companion piece to The Reluctant Fundamentalist that was released earlier this year. In the latter film, the protagonist is a man of Middle Eastern descent living in the United States who is suspected of terrorist activities solely due to his heritage and his appearance. He is persecuted and punished for simply being who he appears to be. He is the poster child for post-9/11 profiling. It isn’t until the final frames of the film that we learn his true nature. In The Attack, it is an unassuming Middle Eastern woman who is the perpetrator of a heinous act that kills 17 people including 11 children. Never suspected of fundamentalist politics, and ostensibly a law-abiding citizen, she represents the faceless nature of the enemy in the war on terror and the simple-mindedness of profiling and stereotyping.
It’s worth noting these two films that tackle post-9/11 issues are directed by foreigners. Having lived with this conflict far longer than those of us in the United States, they seem more capable of tapping into the moral ambiguity and distilling the justifications of terrorism. They also aptly point out that terrorists rarely begin as homicidal maniacs. They believe deeply in a cause, and that belief ultimately makes them consider violence as a legitimate means to bring about change. The Attack is an intelligent film that puts a human face on an ethnic dispute that has raged for decades and offers little comfort that there is a simple solution on the horizon.
8.5 out of 10
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.