Catch a Fire
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Phillip Noyce
scr Shawn Slovo
with Derek Luke, Tim Robbins, Bonnie Henna, Mncedisi Shabangu, Tumisho K Masha, Sithembiso Khumalo, Terry Pheto, Michele Burgers, Mpho Lovinga, Mxo, Nomhlé Nkyonyeni, Malcolm Purkey
release US 27.Oct.06,
UK 23.Mar.07
06/South Africa Working Title 1h41

Codename "Hot Stuff": Luke

luke robbins noyce

London Film Fest

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Catch a Fire A true story from apartheid-era South Africa, this moving and inspiring story has a heavy contemporary resonance. It's also a surprisingly unsubtle and scruffy-looking film from director Noyce, who drew the same parallels more skilfully with Rabbit Proof Fence.

In 1980 South Africa, Patrick Chamusso (Luke) has learned to maintain his dignity while deferring to the nation's white leaders. He's a factory foreman and local football coach, with a loving wife (Henna) and daughters. But when he's suspected of terrorism, top security officer Nic Vos (Robbins) decides he's hiding something. After months of physical and psychological torture, Patrick is finally released. But now he burns with righteous indignation. So he heads to Mozambique to train as an ANC freedom fighter.

The message is clear: violence only provokes more violence, and injustice creates rebels who have a just cause. The parallels in the world today are obvious, as entitled minorities (the West/the big corporations) continues to oppress and exploit the majority (the developing world/the working class). We've seen terrorism as a result, and watching this film we can understand that there's much more to come. And in many ways, it's hard to say it's undeserved.

But this is also a specific story, and Chamusso's tale is remarkably stirring. Luke gives a committed performance that captures the man's steely inner strength, warm humour and strong inner values. And Robbins makes an intriguing monster against Chamusso's good-guy hero. Although he never gives us any inkling of how Vos justifies his actions. Yes, he's complex and human, but besides a subdued sense of superiority and fear, we never understand why a nice family man does such horrible things to other families.

The film looks terrific, catching the dusty settings with expansive photography and bristly editing that's both energetic and strangely vague. Noyce skilfully cranks up the cat-and-mouse suspense as the story approaches its climax. And he nicely contrasts the Vos and Chamusso families' very different fears for their safety--armed paranoia versus helpless oppression. The core statement is forceful: Any society that thinks it can arrest and torture without charge doesn't deserve to be in power. Period.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 30.Oct.06 lff

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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall