Chris Morris is a serious filmmaker, who makes serious films. In a recent interview with Channel 4, he made that quite clear. “I really don’t see the point of comedy unless there’s something underpinning it,” he began. “Are you doing some kind of exotic display for the court?” As far as Morris is concerned, comedy is not about being “slapped on the back by the orthodox elite”, it’s about wanting to “change something”. This will come as no surprise to those familiar with the satirist’s work. From Brass Eye to Four Lions, the Essex-born comic has made a career out of masquerading crisp satire as absurdist comedy. It’s what he’s best at, but just as politics got weird and Brexit took over, Morris went missing. The Day Shall Come is the director’s first job in five years.
"I really don't see the point of comedy unless there's something underpinning it."
Chris Morris says satire is not about being "slapped on the back by the orthodox elite", it's about wanting to "change something". pic.twitter.com/3GcUpwOQwq
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) October 2, 2019
Set in the Miami Projects, the film follows Moses – an impoverished and idiotic preacher who is offered cash to save his family from eviction. His mission? To start a race war and overturn the “accidental dominance of the white race”. Convinced of his divine providence, he accepts the offer. But only after he sees lightning strike near his house and becomes convinced of a sign from God. Unfortunately for him and his rag-tag band of revolutionaries, his sponsor actually works for the FBI and plans to turn him into a terrorist. Eventually, Moses finds himself embroiled in a nuclear arms deal, completely unaware that it’s a set-up to prove he’s dangerous.
“Based on a hundred true stories”, this is a tale rooted in truth: that America’s government likes to take persons of interest and encourage them to break the law. If successful, it’s another statistic in a spreadsheet. Another pat on the back for a suited bureaucrat. The comedy only serves to highlight how farcical the real-life situation has become. For instance, when Anna Kendrick’s opportunist agent is screamed at by her boss to “pitch me the next 9/11”, we’re reminded of a certain angry, blonde-haired president – even if Morris doesn’t mention him by name. Admittedly, the situation is exaggerated for comic effect. But it’s not too far from reality – and it all adds to the creeping sense of dread.
Of course, this is all very similar to Four Lions, isn’t it? Morris’ Bafta-winning parody about four incompetent British terrorists was a critical hit in 2010, and shares many plot points with The Day Shall Come. But this time, we’re in the States – and although every effort is made to avoid losing that quintessential Britishness, it sometimes feels slightly sanitised. There’s less swearing, more action and several starry actors in the cast list. Anna Kendrick is excellent as an eager Fed, looking to stitch Moses up for her own benefit. While newcomer Marchánt Davis excels in his first lead role as the delusional prophet. The script is snappy – stuffed full with Morris’ trademark cutting dialogue – and every character feels expertly drawn. Yet there’s something missing. The heart and soul of Four Lions was its greatest triumph. The jokes were great, naturally. But what made us care about those brainless idiots wasn’t the wisecracks. It was the characters underneath. The Day Shall Come is clever – and a serious feat of filmmaking. You just can’t quite love it in the same way.