Not many satirists have been willing or eager to take on the sticky wicket that is the war on terror, but British comedian Chris Morris is an exception.
Several years ago he made Four Lions, about British men who head to the Middle East and join al-Qaeda, where their incompetence ends up damaging the terror group via Keaton-esque slapstick mishaps more effectively than all coalition forces combined.
Morris’ movie was daring, yet it also showed an Englishman’s classic knack for institutional satire, an attribute he deploys again in The Day Shall Come, a tricky comedy about FBI careerists (Denis O’Hare, Anna Kendrick) who seek advancement via overzealous prosecutions of a Miami man (Philly native Marchánt Davis) who pops up on the feds’ radar after posting a video on YouTube with too many subversive keywords.
The auspiciously named Moses means to lead his people out of poverty and oppression in Miami, though he’d have a hard time explaining his own organizing principles: His “sect” is a mash-up of various religions and political philosophies, and their activities include push-ups and planks, and he refers to his loft-based collective as a “farm.”
» READ MORE: ‘Four Lions’ finds comedy in terrorism
The farm is behind in the rent, so when FBI informants and undercover agents — posing as al-Qaeda — start offering him support, he listens. They are eager to sell him guns, but Moses (engagingly played by Davis) is inconveniently nonviolent — he wants a horse, some clothing, and cash, leading the impatient feds to fits of exasperation (and comical office infighting).
There are intentional echoes here of the federal sting that targeted members of the so-called Liberty City Seven in Miami, one that resulted in mistrials and acquittals as juries found themselves persuaded by defense arguments that the purported terrorists were really street hustlers who were trying to game the FBI undercover agents for as much swag as they could get.
You see something similar at work in The Day Shall Come. Moses won’t deal for guns, so the FBI arranges a meeting between Moses and the head of a local white supremacist organization (Jim Gaffigan!) with some uranium to sell.
Here the movie makes the point that terror cases make headlines and careers, but perhaps also result in the neglect of equally valid targets. The movie seems to have anticipated the latitude granted to men like Jeffrey Epstein (one FBI informant is leveraged because of his record as a predator), or the recent turn in focus to the threat posed by domestic terrorists.
The movie also presents the prosecution as entrapment, and this is also in the news. One study estimated that a majority of more than 300 cases, post-9/11, involving federal informants and undercover agents included probable elements of entrapment — the basis for Morris’ claim that the movie is based on “hundreds of true stories.”
The Day Shall Come. Directed by Chris Morris. With Marchánt Davis, Denis O’Hare, Anna Kendrick, Jim Gaffigan, and Danielle Brooks. Distributed by IFC Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 mins.
Parents guide: Not rated.
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse.