The Attack is about an Arab surgeon in Tel Aviv whose wife disappears and is suspected of terrorism. Yet despite its title and setting, this Lebanese film (adapted from an Algerian novel) can be thought of as the antithesis of Zero Dark Thirty. Personal instead of political, and contemplative rather than gripping, it presents both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a tangled web of searing intensity. On the day that Amin (Ali Suliman) is to be recognized for his medical excellence with a prestigious award, his wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem), leaves to visit her grandfather in the Palestinian territories. “Every time I leave you a part of me dies,” she tells him, and as the story unfolds it is gradually revealed whether Amin’s passion is equal to hers. But he is unquestionably a humanitarian without regard for borders, explaining during his acceptance speech that no one is an enemy when they are lying on his operating table.
His neutrality is soon tested when dozens of wounded are brought to the hospital from a suicide bombing. An injured Jewish man refuses to let the Arab doctor operate on him. And just after, Amin is held for questioning by an agent from Shin Ben, the anti-terrorist organization. Though Amin and Siham are nonreligious, they are suspects in the bombing, especially Siham. An officer tells Amin that extremists target women for recruiting because their deaths bring more media attention. After Amin is released, he picks up the trail where the authorities left off, in search of the truth about the woman he was married to for 15 years.
As he does, the film weaves in a dialogue about the conflict. Most of Amin’s friends are Jewish, and one especially compassionate friend tells him bluntly, “The attack destroyed the trust of Israel in its Arab citizens.” The Palestinians Amin investigates in the territories—including his own family members—all have different perspectives, some stoically peaceful, some insanely hostile. In the film’s most harrowing conversation, an imam explains how not every martyr is a zealot, and that there are other, inexplicable reasons for why someone may suddenly want to die for a cause.
Director Ziad Doueiri was a longtime camera operator for Quentin Tarantino, though you would never know it from the film’s deliberate pacing and avoidance of action sequences. And as it becomes more involved, the plot may be bewildering to audiences not familiar with recent jihad events. Even so, a quietly devastating performance from Suliman (a standout as the lieutenant in The Kingdom) makes Amin’s interior journey a compelling one, even if the emotional gamut he experiences is almost beyond comprehension.