The Israeli-Palestinian drama “The Attack” is a frustrating, rage-inducing movie — not because it’s bad, but because it succeeds so well in generating those reactions. Or maybe it’s me. I’m just sick to death of people blowing themselves up and taking others with them. Who cares what political rhetoric or religious screed they lean on to justify this obscene act?
Set largely in Tel Aviv, “The Attack” centers on Amin (Ali Suliman), a surgeon so esteemed that we meet him as he receives an annual award being given, for the first time in four decades, to a non-Israeli. He’s Palestinian, technically Muslim but not a practitioner. He and his wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem), are happily assimilated, friends to his Israeli colleagues, living a good life. Only, oddly, Siham begs off from attending her husband’s award ceremony, claiming she has to return to the West Bank and visit family in Nablus. The next day she’s dead, along with nearly 20 other people killed by a suicide bomber. In Tel Aviv. Where she was not supposed to be at the time.
Still in the first stages of grief and disbelief, Amin is manhandled by authorities convinced that Siham was no victim but the bomber. When he’s thrown into a jail cell, tortured with ear-shredding music and interrogated relentlessly, you might think, “How is this legal?” Then you recall that, even in the United States, that’s a pre-9/11, pre-rendition question. Getting medieval on people’s asses has become the norm in the 21st century.
On his release, Amin starts to do some investigating. “If they released me, they know my wife is innocent,” he claims to one of the few colleagues who will still sit down to dinner with him. Most of his formerly collegial cohorts treat him like a leper.
His questions lead him to Nablus, and to a nephew whose quick and furtive cameo appearance in the film’s first section is too much of a giveaway — the opposite of a red herring. Amin also meets Muslim leaders who deliver cool bromides insulated in smug self-conviction. “Is it the truth you’re looking for,” one cleric asks Amin, “or the one you’re running away from?”
A core weakness of the movie is the nature of Amin’s and Sahim’s marriage. Depicted only in brief flashbacks, their relationship seems more theoretical than lived in. In that sense, the film uses her as a two-dimensional symbol as surely as her terrorist supporters turn her into a paper-thin martyr. (Literally; Amin finds her image posted as anti-Israeli inspiration all around the streets of Nablus.)
More vital is Kim (Evgenia Dodena), Ahim’s colleague who starts off as a sensitive character but comes to represent the reductive, for-us-or-against-us mind-set of people living in the endless push-pull of the West Bank. Initially supportive of Amin in his grief, she turns frosty toward him when he returns from Nablus harboring ambivalent feelings rather than simple rage against the terrorists.
I don’t know. I can’t see how Amin’s ambivalence or Kim’s certainty helps very much in a world gone mad. By the end, the movie sent me into a mood of anger and despair. Which may sound like the opposite of a recommendation of “The Attack.” In a weird way, though, that’s an endorsement.
“The Attack.” With Ali Suliman, Evgenia Dodena, Reymond Amsalem. Directed by Ziad Douieri. In Arabic and Hebrew, with subtitles. Rated R. 102 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.