Dr. Amin Jafaari (Ali Suliman) is part of a community you never see. He is an Arab living, and living well, in Israel. When we meet him he is receiving a special prize for his contributions to medicine. He gives a speech where he acknowledges that there are some difficulties living as he does, but he's had opportunities and a lifestyle in Israel that aren't open to him elsewhere.
Not at the ceremony is his wife, who is visiting relatives but checks in on the phone. The next day Amin's at the hospital, celebrating the afterglow of his big night. Over lunch his chums, including the large-framed security chief Raveed, congratulate him, although one of his colleagues makes a comment that could be interpreted as pointed. Before there's time to dwell there's a boom in the background. This is Tel Aviv, and everyone knows what the sound means. There's been a terrorist attack somewhere.
Moments later Amin is elbows deep in the horror of emergency surgery. Injured children are crying, panicked parents are flipping out and one wounded man refuses to led Amin touch him. At the end of the grueling day Amin shares an elevator with an orderly, pushing a gurney with just a head and torso under a sheet.
At 3 am he gets a call from Raveed to return to the hospital. He's brought to the morgue and the same half-body is wheeled before him. They think it's Amin's wife and he needs to confirm the body. It's a movie/tv beat we've seen a thousand times but director Ziad Doueiri holds his shots for maximum tension. Even though she wasn't supposed to be in town, yes, that's her on the table.
As if this isn't enough for Amin to deal with it's only a few moments before he's getting shaken down by the police. Amin's wife's injuries are consistent with those of a suicide bomber.
It makes no sense. She was rich, she was happy. She was not a Muslim fundamentalist. (She was, in fact, a secular Christian Arab.) The police investigator shoots down every rebuttal with "that's what they all say" and begins the controversial GITMO-esque practices of trying to get more info out of him.
He's eventually cleared of all charges. Marked as just a clueless husband, he's sent back into the world. To Amin, though, the nightmare is just beginning. He sets off to clear his wife's name and, well, the less specific I get from here on in the better.
The Attack follows Amin into the heart of identity politics and the root causes of terrorism. While the specifics of an Israeli Arab (who has many close and supportive Jewish friends) is fascinating, the film eventually becomes far more universal than this particular conflict. (Unfortunately, political scapegoating and retaliatory acts of violence are more widespread than only in Israel and Palestine.) The movie ends in just about the most heartbreaking way possible, with all of the questions answered but none of the questions answered.
The Attack will be a film that gets people talking (it is scheduled for release next year) because it lets its hero make some controversial decisions. The movie is pretty clear in its condemnation of terrorism, but many may get worked-up because it treats some of those in support of "asymmetric warfare" as something other than tasmanian devils of pure evil. There are also some imperfections of a less weighty nature, like a second act that rambles a bit, but Amin's search for the heart of darkness is, by and large, very dramatic, engaging and tragic.