It’s now over twenty five years since I’ve been a fan of the work of Chris Morris, ever since one night when working at a fish and chip shop I heard the death of Conservative politician announced on the radio, was initially shocked, before becoming slowly aware that not everything was it seemed. Morris was known for outrageous, surreal comedy even back then as The Day Today had first aired a few months prior, but this was my first introduction to his playful, twisted, absurdist comedy and I fell madly in love with it.
That led to listening to his Radio 1 shows every week, tracking down The Day Today and On The Hour, and when Brass Eye was broadcast I gathered as many of my friends around the tv as possible, all of whom were unaware of his work, and all of whom adored it an insane amount the moment the first episode finished. Blue Jam, Jam, the Brass Eye special, Nathan Barley and Four Lions of course all followed, and thanks to the superb Chris Morris archive site CookdandBombd I was able to hear his older radio work, and even though not every thing has been of quite the same level of quality it’s been comedy which is endlessly inventive, incredibly dense in the nature of the amount of thought put in to it, and best of all quite simply fucking hilarious.
Which is why I’m currently hating writing this review. Because nine years on from Four Lions my expectations were incredibly high for The Day Shall Come, Morris’s latest exploration of terrorism, but though it’s undoubtedly good, that’s all it is. And it’s the first time such a pallid description can be attributed to his comedy. It also has a fair few problems when it comes to the way it’s dealt with the lead character’s mental health which is surprisingly misjudged, and many of the scenes with the FBI and various government agencies fall flat, which amazes me as Morris has always been razor sharp when satirising similar elements in the past.
Before I get to those aspects of the film I do want to stress that certain parts do work extremely well. The plot sees the misguided but generally kindhearted Moses Al Shabaz (Marchánt Davis, who’s astonishingly good in the role) running The Star of Six Community Farm and Mission, sure he wants to overthrow the government but he wants to do it without weapons (well, bar a toy crossbow) but he starts to struggle when he can’t pay the rent and so becomes involved in a plot to buy weapons for his supposed army (made up of four people, or five if you count his daughter) and after his partner leaves him because of this it becomes even more fucked up as he’s introduced to some Nazis and promises to get them some uranium.
The twist is that everything is being orchestrated by the FBI, who, as in real life, have a team who look for people who may plausibly be considering committing a terrorist attack and then they give them all of the money and weapons that they could ever need. Leading this particular case is Anna Kendrick’s Kendra Glack who starts to have doubts about Moses and whether he is the type who wants to murder others, especially when Moses approaches the FBI wanting to inform on himself.
There are some very funny moments in the film, nearly all of which involve Moses and his gang of misguided followers, from his belief that a horn can summon dinosaurs to attack the government to the fact that Al-Qaeda publish a glossy magazine with tips on how to commit acts of terrorism, and the way they interact with the Nazis and solver the uranium problem is funny stuff indeed. And the concept of the FBI essentially creating terrorists is a bleakly amusing one, with some of the scenes between Kendrick and her boss Dennis Hare generating the odd smile and occasional laugh.
But the scenes with the FBI are often poor too, there is some sharp satire when it comes to how they tie themselves in knots to justify their shitty behaviour but a lot of the dialogue is just weak. During the early scenes I thought this might be intentional, with Morris showing the lack of imagination these characters have when it comes to insulting each other, but it soon becomes apparent that that’s not the case, that they are smart people, just incredibly selfish and of the kind who will do anything to avoid taking the blame when things go wrong. So the fact that their banter is so average, and lacking in Morris’s trademark wordsmithery, is a massive disappointment.
The film also struggles when it comes to it’s use of Moses mental health, it’s a movie which is essentially about the exploitation of a man who clearly has serious issues, what with his belief that animals can talk to him (which we see at one point when his horse speaks to him) and that God is directly sending him messages. Okay, he’s a savvy individual who sometimes uses such events for his own means some of the time, but he’s also someone whose grip on reality is pretty shaky, and the fact that the film mostly uses this to get laughs is a real issue.
If this was a first time director, or a normally workmanlike one like Ron Howard, it’d no doubt get praise for the directions it takes, but this is Chris Morris we’re talking about, and a film we’ve waited nine years for, so it’s incredibly frustrating that it’s a flawed creation. And though the ending is powerful and the points it makes are important ones, I miss the Chris Morris who could do all of those things while also maintaining an incredibly high joke rate, and I just hope that whatever he does next is a return to those times, and that we don’t have to wait quite so long for such an event too.