Chris Morris was watching a British TV newscast delivering a breaking news alert. The satirist, like many other viewers, reacted with both horror and relief.
“It said that in Miami, an army claiming a full-scale ground war on the United States had just been arrested by the FBI, and the attorney general was making an announcement that the nation had been saved,” Morris said during the South by Southwest Film Festival.
The 2006 case of the Liberty City Seven became the primary basis for Morris’ latest film, The Day Shall Come. But rather than a pulse-pounding thriller, it’s an absurdist political satire. There’s a reason for that.
“Two years later, it turned out that this vicious warrior army was seven construction workers from Miami who planned to take over Chicago by riding in on horses,” Morris said. “They didn’t have any money or weapons. They didn’t even have any horses. But they had been represented as the biggest non-al-Qaeda threat to America since 9/11.”
As a trial later revealed, an FBI informant had offered members of the obscure religious cult $50,000 to stage a plan for mass violence. That plan became somehow toppling the Sears Tower into Lake Michigan, causing a tidal wave, and subsequently arriving on horseback to finish the job.
“I thought this must be a one-off, but I started looking, and it turns out there’s a drip-drip-drip of these cases,” Morris said. “The details are remarkable.”
Morris’ farce focuses on the counterterrorism efforts of an FBI field officer (Denis O’Hare) and his deputy (Anna Kendrick). They attempt to gain publicity by framing a grassroots wannabe militia leader named Moses (Marchant Davis), living in poverty in Miami, and funding his misguided revolutionary mission through maze of corrupt motives, bumbling informants, and bureaucratic red tape.
Morris (Four Lions) said his film is “based on 100 true stories,” with composite characters and scenarios to make the material timely and provocative.
“It wasn’t so much looking to those real stories to include actual elements in the film. It was to see how the structure of those cases worked,” he said. “The stories inform the shape, and they allow you to create a fiction within the realm of what’s possible. The best jokes come from real behavior, within the circumstances that you’ve set up.”
Beneath the comedy, of course, is a glimpse into federal officials drumming up public paranoia and justifying their budgets by spending time and resources on anonymous hunches and wild goose chases — and losing sight of the broader goals in the process.
“These guys have a job. After 9/11, they tasked themselves with looking after the homeland. It’s a very difficult thing to do. They accidentally discover that it’s harder to catch the real guys than it is to lead some people on and get them convicted of terrorism,” Morris said. “You have a Moses-type person. Is he dangerous? Am I going to be the person who says he’s not? Then what happens down the line? Just by that straightforward career management process, it becomes ridiculous.”