Working on the concept that one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter, Catch a Fire sees director Philip Noyce craft a thought provoking movie that holds many parallels to the current war in Iraq and the rise of insurgents in that area.
Catch a Fire tells the true story of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), a hard working, non-political husband and father who is arrested and held without charge by anti-terrorist squad leader Vic Nos (Tim Robbins), who suspects Patrick as being apart of the ANC (African National Congress), a radical political group responsible for a series of recent bombings.
Tortured and coerced to confess to a crime he did not commit, Patrick is let go by Nos due to insufficient evidence. With his human rights violated, Patrick decides to fight back joining the ANC while trying to keep one step ahead of Nos.
Noyce wisely continues to stay away from the typical Hollywood drab that was taking over his career, instead concentrating on projects with strong social and political commentary, much like 2002’s Rabbit Proof Fence.
Writer Shawn Slovo, whose parents were anti-apartheid activists Ruth First and Joe Slovo (head of the ANC, played in Catch a Fire by Malcolm Purkey) has written an even handed account about two men who are both fighting to bring peace and freedom to their country, the only problem is both men have different ideas of just what South Africa should be.
Of course, Patrick comes across as the more sympathetic character. How can you not feel for a man who despite his best intentions to live and raise his family within the restrictive and brutal apartheid regime is never the less arrested, tortured and held with no evidence?
Vic Nos, however, is the more interesting of the two. Protected by a sense of civic duty where he feels he is guarding South Africa from its enemies, Nos is a man of many contradictions. He willingly orders the torture of his suspects and their families, yet due to his supposed Christian compassion he decides to stop the torture of Patrick on a Sunday for it is “the day of rest”, and invites Patrick to his home for lunch. He is a monster, but all too human.
Acting wise, Derek Luke is very good, proving he is one of the better actors of his generation. Tim Robbins, who would have relished playing a restrained character when compared to his most recent over the top fare in War of the Worlds and Anchorman, also gives a good performance.
The rest of the cast (who seem to be mostly made up inexperienced actors) just cannot match the quality work giving by the two leads, especially in regards to Bonnie Henna who is so boringly dull that Noyce might as well had a mannequin cast in her place.
Cinematographers Ron Fortunato and Garry Phillips catch the magnificent beauty of South Africa, while Phillip Miller provides a driving score. The choice and use of music is perhaps the best thing in this film.
Catch a Fire has unfortunately been pushed aside by the other South African set drama, Blood Diamond. This is a shame, since Catch a Fire is the better film. And if Derek Luke’s performance is anything to go by, than we might just have the next great actor of this generation.