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Arab-born surgeon Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) receives a high honor from his new Israeli friends. He's wealthy and happy in Tel Aviv with his wife of fifteen years, Siham (Reymond Amsalem). She's an Arab Christian and he's a non-practicing Muslim. Amin works through a demanding day in the Emergency Room when dozens of wounded and maimed victims of a terror bomb stream in. A few hours later Amin is being grilled by a tough Israeli security Captain (Uri Gavriel). Siham died in the terror blast. Amin can't understand how, as she was supposed to be visiting relatives in a different city. And then he's told that she was the bomber. Seventeen people including ten children were killed, and the wounded number much higher. Amin is in total, defiant denial until a letter arrives, mailed by Siham before her death. Instead of turning it over to the police, he travels to its town of origin. He wants to visit his relatives there, and find out who brainwashed his wife into becoming a soulless fanatic.
2012's The Attack isn't a typical political film hoping to win the attention of the Academy. Its point of view is the most nonpartisan of any film I've yet seen on this subject. Even Israeli filmmakers make pro-Palestinian films these days, or at least films that sympathize with the plight of Arabs in the West Bank, etc. Author Yasmina Khadra's 2007 book uses a terror attack to quickly engage with political realities in Israel. This movie adaptation probes deep into the notion of identity for its Arab hero, a model citizen in every way.
Only the terrible aftermath of the bombing is shown, as teams of doctors try to save seriously injured and mutilated victims. Dr. Amin handles this task with calm skill, backed by a dedicated staff. But events will soon strip him of the superficial emblems of trust and acceptance. The police Captain is forceful but never physically abusive; he knows he's talking to an exemplary citizen. Amin's Jewish friends are tolerant of his shocked, sullen reaction. They know him to be a man of integrity. The local security man takes Amin's side entirely, and tolerates his rudeness. And a compassionate colleague, already clearly in love with Amin, tries to get him to accept what has happened, turn his evidence over to the police, and move on. Amin instead reconnects with the Palestinian relatives he's kept at arm's length. A niece drives him around the outlying, all-Arab town where cab drivers listen to the hate-filled speeches of a religious leader, Sheikh Marwan. Amin discovers that photos extolling Siham as a glorious martyr are everywhere -- a street hawker tries to sell him one. The more Amin learns, the more he realizes that the Palestinians -- his own people -- are engaged in a ruthless war against the Jews. They worship his wife but feel nothing for him, a man who has chosen to live on the generosity of their enemy. Amin's Israeli friends use the same argument in reverse, and think he should be grateful to them. It doesn't matter that he has earned his professional position. Both sides expect his undivided loyalty.
The screenplay by director Doueiri and Joell Touma allows Amin to be a fair minded, extremely likeable protagonist. He remembers playing Batman when his niece shows him comic books from his childhood. He has no bitter reactions when a wounded Israeli patient demands another doctor. The more Amin probes, the more he finds that his fellow Arabs and even his own family, are intent on protecting him from the truth. Nobody wants the whole truth.
The police interrogator becomes strangely sympathetic when he tells Amin that the raw truth about cherished loved ones can be a nightmare. Director Doueiri handles a series of momentary flashbacks with great skill. We see Amin and Siham as devoted lovers; only slowly does Amin recall specific moments in which Siham may have been keeping secrets from him. What he eventually learns turns his life upside-down. Nothing can be the same again.
It's to the credit of Doueiri and his cast that we care so deeply about the resolution to this drama. Ali Suliman is a handsome man with distinct ethnic features; he's no Omar Sharif. Reymond Absalem's Sihan is repeatedly described as a beautiful woman. It's frightening when the cutaways reveal her to be more fulfilled, the deeper she gets into her second, secret life. The Attack never threatens to become an ordinary thriller, and instead enforces a different kind of concerned suspense.
The Cohen Media Group's Blu-ray of The Attack (aka L'attentat) is a flawless encoding of this new feature, produced internationally. The widescreen image is a full 2:35 width, not 1:77 as listed at Amazon.
Cohen Media's presentation includes a still gallery, a trailer, and a brief interview piece with director Ziad Doueiri, who we learn worked as a camera assistant for Quentin Tarantino in the 1990s. Doueiri describes The Attack as a story about a man in the middle, which couldn't be more accurate.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Attack Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.