Chris Morris’s satire The Day Shall Come finds the F.B.I. so caught up in the numbers game of catching domestic terrorists that they’re grooming people for entrapment. At one point, a man is arrested after he’s coerced into dialing a single digit for a fake phone-activated bomb. White agents kick around profanities that sound straight out of Veep, and the film seems most comfortable with these familiar, darkly funny depictions of bureaucratic sociopathy. Where it’s visibly out of its depth is in the cartoonish exploits of its main character, a black Miami preacher named Moses Al Shabaz (Marchánt Davis) whose stated mission is to overthrow “the accidental dominance of the white race.”
Though he and his handful of followers chant “Europeans you will pay” in military singsong, Moses is as benign as would-be revolutionaries can possibly get. His religious commune, the Star of Six, doesn’t even believe in guns, opting instead for a toy crossbow and an air horn that allegedly summons the C.I.A.’s secret reserve of dinosaurs. Moses is more concerned with avoiding eviction than starting a race war, but such revolutionary overtures bring him to the attention of the F.B.I. anyway, where eager young operative Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) presents him as the next target for their crusade against homegrown terrorism.
One character is unconvinced of Glack’s plan, protesting that “black targets are no longer cool” because “cops have fucked the legal optics.” It’s a throwaway bit of comedic hemming and hawing, but it’s also the first big sign that something is off about The Day Shall Come’s satire. The idea that killings by police have particularly discouraged the targeted racism of the United States government is almost quaint, one of several instances where the film’s approach toward race in America seems not ill-intentioned but certainly ill-informed. The line dramatically overestimates the impact of public perception on the racist practices of government institutions, and it sounds even more bizarre when meant to come from an organization with such a storied anti-black history as the F.B.I.
Though Morris ostensibly centers Moses as the lens through which we view F.B.I. overreach and various social ills—poverty, gentrification, racial oppression—there’s little that tethers him to reality. It’s no real fault of the excellent Marchánt Davis, who plays much of the film with a riotous deadpan expression that betrays momentary flickers of confusion. As written, the character seems to grow more cartoonish with time, as the film promptly abandons any potential pathos from his economic situation or historical grievances for whatever delusions have manifested from the fact that he’s off his meds; he wears a shower curtain as a cape and believes the good Lord spoke to him through a duck while Satan wasn’t paying attention. Scenes of Moses attempting to hustle various characters are only baffling, muddying the idea of what he actually believes and what he thinks people just want to hear.
Compared to, say, Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You and its zany interrogation of its protagonist’s racial passing, there’s no detectable lived experience in the character of Moses. Morris’s 2010 crime comedy Four Lions may have been similarly broad, but it grounded its characters through their desire for recognition and other such commonplace insecurities, seeing in those discomforts the true motivations for their jihad. Conversely, The Day Shall Come treats Moses more like a bundle of delusions, leaving Glack, the white lady who grows a conscience, to be the closest thing it has to an emotional anchor.
The film’s events exist in a vacuum, lacking any bigger picture to contextualize the F.B.I. numbers game beyond the allure of promotion, that getting results matters more than what they actually are. It’s not a bad premise for satire, but The Day Shall Come goes nowhere with it, seemingly preoccupied with how Moses does things like talk to his horse. Nor does it provide any sense of what dangers are being ignored by focusing on Moses despite the fact that, say, the Department of Homeland Security has only recently designated white supremacy as domestic terrorism. This isn’t a film with its finger on the pulse so much as an aimless, albeit sometimes funny, chronicle of absurd behavior and government ineptitude.
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