Catch a Fire (2006) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, torture, brief nudity, and language
Running Time: 102 min.
Cast: Derek Luke, Tim Robbins, Bonnie Henna, Mncedisi Shabangu, Tumisho Masha,
Director: Phillip Noyce
Screenplay: Shawn Slovo
Review published November 5, 2006
They say that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, and in Catch a Fire, the man that exemplifies both is a South African named Patrick Chamusso (Luke, Glory Road), an apolitical mine worker who felt a call to arms during the days of Apartheid, when he was subjected to false imprisonment and torture at the hands of the white policemen of the area, headed by Nic Vos (Robbins, Zathura). Chamusso and other friends were beaten, tortured, and their families harassed by police, but he was subsequently released when he was finally deemed as not responsible. Fed up with the state of constant fear that he and his native Africans were forced to live under, he became the terrorist that the police had formerly had accused him of, leaving for Mozambique to join the African National Congress, now operating as a freedom fighting organization set on abolishing Apartheid by any means necessary.
It's difficult to watch Catch a Fire and not think about current world situations, specifically in the fight against terrorism, and the means by which we interrogate people suspected of possessing knowledge of terrorist cells within Iraq and other Arab countries. Just as the perpetrators of these questionable fear and torture tactics feel justified that they are saving lives by rooting out the terrorist threat, it can also be argued that these same tactics also exacerbate the problem by creating even more terrorists. Given the fact that, while certainly an interesting story, it remains rather unremarkable as a standalone feature film, I can only conclude that this message to the world that fighting terrorists through acts of terrorism only makes matters worse for everyone is the reason this project had been developed to begin with.
Interestingly, while Chamusso is portrayed as the protagonist, we are never really on his side when he embarks upon his life as a freedom fighter, not particularly wanting him to succeed in hs plans on blowing up the plant that he originally had been accused of attempting to destroy back in his innocent days. Conversely, we also despise Vos's tactics when it comes to his treatment of prisoners and the local black African population, but we also never want to see tragedy befall him or his family. What we truly wish for is that a peaceful resolution can be had by all, knowing that such a thing has become increasingly unlikely to occur as the final events are set in motion.
Catch a Fire was written by Shawn Slovo, the daughter of South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo, who also wrote an award-winning anti-Apartheid film in 1988 called A World Apart. While one might accuse Slovo of minimizing the very complex South African politics and movements of the time into very simple terms, given the main themes that shed light on the self-defeatist nature of torture and intolerance, I think the film still succeeds on getting its point across in competent fashion. With strong performances by the two leads, particularly Luke in yet another standout, Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American, Rabbit-Proof Fence) is able to make the most of this compelling story, which works equally well as a drama as well as a political thriller.
Catch a Fire is a timely piece, perhaps more resonant given the current state of affairs, but given the fact that we, as humans, haven't learned from these mistakes of the past, its timely message will probably, sadly, prove timeless.
©2006 Vince Leo