Day Night Day Night

Rated NR

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the image of the Islamic terrorist was a simplistic caricature available to action-movie directors as a way around providing motivation to a story’s villains. In the last six years, something strange must have happened, because this character has become more frequent and more complex, if not less caricatured. In Day Night Day Night, director Julia Loktev manages the difficult feat of humanizing a young woman who is about to commit a terrorist act, without in any way excusing or justifying her actions. It’s a tense and weird little film, focusing on the minutiae of the 48 hours leading up to a suicide bombing in Times Square. The polite and meek terrorist (who is never named) sweetly accedes to the demands of her masked handlers, thanks strangers for kindness and straps a bomb on her back, because she thinks that’s what God wants her to do. Luisa Williams, who plays the nameless villain, has arresting green eyes and a sharply sculpted face that she uses to tremendous effect. Her performance goes a long way toward making this microscopic investigation of two days riveting, but most of the credit goes to Loktev, who uses only ambient sounds, carefully amplified or muted, to create a music-less soundtrack that’s far more chilling than any combination of throbbing bass lines and violin noises. Even if you ignore the well-handled content of this film, formally, this is a masterpiece presentation in what can be done with cinema. It’s a tremendous advance in the art of suspense filmmaking, marking Loktev as one of today’s more psychologically and politically astute young filmmakers.

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