When a single act of violence is central to a film’s plot, the event almost always shows up on the screen. It’s like some implicit promise to the audience, as if seeing carnage were requisite to understanding the film’s sorrow, fear or revenge. Not so in The Attack. The suicide bombing of the title is never seen and barely heard. It occurs while we’re way up on the balcony of a Tel Aviv hospital with Amin, an accomplished Arab surgeon who’s comfortably integrated into life in Israel, despite his ethnic background. He hears the boom and responds briefly as the muffled terrorist act plays out offscreen, at a distance. We may not see the immediate impact but we get a good sense of the emotional shrapnel when it’s discovered that Amin’s wife is the attacker.
Director and co-writer Ziad Doueiri (a former Hollywood camera operator) acknowledges a number of genres in his modest, generally effective drama, which works best when it uncomfortably addresses its cultural and psychological complexities. At times, The Attack is the study of an outsider living well in one of the most racially sensitive areas of the world. Other times, it straddles the line between TV procedural and international mystery as Amin (an impressive Ali Suliman) acts as lone wolf, tenaciously searching for those who convinced his spouse to carry out such horror.
When Doueiri heads down more artistic paths — employing flashbacks, inner thoughts, creatively designed camerawork — The Attack holds your attention. Amin is presented as a man of medicine, a free thinker who doesn’t attach himself by default to his Arab background, and he’s stunned that his wife could be so “brainwashed.” He replays memories of time spent with her, contemplating the idea that we only think we know people – including ourselves.
Still, whether it’s Doueri’s choice or Suliman’s performance, the portrayal of Amin comes up a little light. We should be closer witness to Amin’s headgames or raging inner conflict and confusion. While it’s easy to appreciate the film’s quieter key, there’s a storm brewing inside of Amin’s psyche, and releasing it at the right times would make for a more dynamic experience.
The scenes between Amin and Siham (Reymond Amsalem) have a dreamy quality that hints at the clouded perspective these people could have of one another. In the midst of a love scene early in their romance, the two admit that neither is aware of the number of consecutive days they’ve been in bed (it’s continually raining outside, a great touch). When Siham wonders aloud if they’ll start growing mold, Amin replies that some mold is therapeutic. They share a smart, sexy sense of humor that doesn’t really make its way out of the bedroom. There’s a certain mystery and perhaps authenticity to a setting like that.
As Amin gets deeper down the rabbit hole, reminiscent of Harrison Ford in Frantic or Vincent Cassel in Irreversible, The Attack simmers with good old-fashioned danger and tension. The action doesn’t ratchet up like it would in standard fare, but we do get a resolution of sorts. A complicated one, filled with confusion and sadness, true to the fact that real events like this don’t play by rules and don’t offer many answers. We don’t need to see a big explosion in front of our faces to understand that.