"The Attack" is a fantastic film about how you can never escape your race, until suddenly it’s not anymore. Ali Suliman stars as Amin Jaafari, an Arab doctor who’s somehow managed to carve out a healthy niche working in Israel. We meet him accepting his "Medical Oscar," and, aside from his wife’s conspicuous absence - she calls as he’s going to pick up the award - he seems to have assimilated extremely well. Yet, comments in his speech make it clear it wasn’t easy achieving this tenor. He notes, directly, that no Arab had won this award in the past 40 years. There’s a palpable tension in the room. As always, the illusions of a "post-racial" society remain just that.
When we see him at work, the casual nature of the violence that erupts from this tension is more chilling than the violence itself. A small pop in the distance is unmistakable - he immediately starts preparing, and then, moments later, in roll the small children, blood spurting, limbs missing. This time a suicide bomber set themselves off in the same restaurant where a birthday party was in progress, and we see Arnin, calmly, operating on the results. Except for one man, that is: he refuses to have his life saved by an Arab, screaming, "I want another doctor!"
The film is directed by Ziad Doueiri, who worked for Quentin Tarantino as a camera operator from "Reservoir Dogs" through "Jackie Brown." You can certainly see the influence in his compositions. He shoots the film through wide-scope lenses, blowing out space between all the characters, fracturing them on opposite sides of the frame. The symbolism isn’t subtle, but it works.
What happens next isn’t subtle, either: The police show Arnin the corpse of the bomber, and it’s his wife. He’s shocked. She would never do anything like this. They were Christian. And so, after a long few days of cruel interrogation, he makes his way back into Palestine, determined to find the men who collaborated on the act of terrorism, and pry lose the psychological underpinnings that drove his wife to turn to perceived martyrdom. And Doueri, determined to make the film without taking a political side, shifts his exploration of race into a mystery yarn and a journey-to-self-discovery.
The shift creates an ambiguity that’s simultaneously singular and frustrating. Doueiri, in starting out with the macro and then delving deep into the micro, has created a film with no answers. Those gleaning for subtext will find only what they project onto it, and they’ll only see the baggage they bring in. (The film, also, manages to feel didactic even as it refuses to take a side.) Yet it also lacks immediacy, and by the time the film ends, it feels much smaller than it did when it begun. Admirably, he’s created a film with no answers. Unfortunately, it’s not that interesting to watch his Amin search for them, either.