Moses (Marchánt Davis) is a preacher and failing farmer in an increasingly gentrified Miami. Hoping to save his farm from a salacious landlord, he sets out to trade weapons-grade uranium but unknown to him, he is being set up by the FBI.
It has been almost a decade since Chris Morris’ last film ‘Four Lions’ was on our screens and in lots of ways it is worrying what has changed and what has stayed the same. Here he has taken some of the same themes of his previous film but painted with different brush strokes.
The main question for any satire is, is it funny? Yes, yes it is. There are plenty of good lines and stupid gags from characters. But where the film excels is the situations the characters land up in. Everyone thinks they are the smartest person in the room and playing everyone around them, but in fact, every character is a complete idiot.
One of the main ways it differs from ‘Four Lions’ is we spend significant time with federal agents that are also observing the protagonist. What we find here is a role reversal in which the terrorists are sympathetic and the FBI are the villains. This is in part to do with the fact that there isn’t actually any terrorist threats. They are all inventions of the government agencies. It’s an effective way to show how governmental bodies operate and think, often falling into traps they have set for themselves, but they never face the consequences because they are the people in power. These moments have a tendency to resemble 'The Thick of It', largely in part that both Morris and Jesse Armstrong are strong influences on the programme but I would like to have seen them push outside their comfort zone a little.
Moses is a broadly sympathetic protagonist, his goal in life might not be, but it is not without reason or cause. He hopes to overthrow “the accidental white supremacy” and is clearly based on the pan-African movement leader Marcus Garvey. But with a mixture of stupidity and general likeability he brings the audience along for the ride. It is unbelievable that this is Marchánt Davis’ first feature film and I’m desperate to see what he goes on to do in the future. He has an easy on-screen presence, he’s not looking for the laughs, he’s taking the character incredibly seriously and that is where most great comedy comes from.
I’ve always really enjoyed Morris’ directing style and although he has never returned to the experimental hi-point of 'Blue Jam', it is clear that he has developed a style. The mix of traditional camera shots and long shots that are voyeuristic in nature works well. Often, we the audience feel that, like the FBI, we are spying on the protagonists. It also serves well for subtle jokes in the background for the eagle-eyed viewer.
It is also a proper satire. The most boring dinner party patter of “how can anyone do satire when the news is already so ridiculous” will loom large in many other reviews, and these people should be thoroughly ignored much as their world-weary spouses do. Voltaire was able to write the greatest satirical book when the world was seemingly flipped upside down during the French Revolution, so there is plenty of material if you know where to look. Rather than revert to lazy impressions, it holds a mirror to us and worryingly it is a rather plane mirror. As the credits let us know, it’s based on a million true stories. I’m sure in time we will find that the weirdest elements of the farce will likely be the truest.
‘The Day Shall Come’ is another work of satirical genius from Chris Morris, we can only hope we don’t need to wait another decade for his next film.