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|Index||58 reviews in total|
This movie, set in the 1980's, depicts and contrasts the brutal oppression of White South Africa with the opposition of the ANC, most notably Joe Slovo, a hero of the time. Joe Slovo paid a high price for his opposition, including the loss of his wife to the oppressors of the day, but this movie, with a screenplay written by one of his children, takes a high-minded, forgiving approach that few of us could ever contemplate in the circumstances. Told through the eyes of Patrick Chamusso, a gentle man whose quiet life becomes radicalized by oppressive forces, the movie is powerful, emotional and, curiously - for reasons mentioned, balanced. One of the best movies I have ever seen, with a fine performance by Tim Robbins as a detective without a soul. This movie was first screened at the Toronto International Film Festival where it received lengthy and well-deserved applause, as did a gracious Mr. Chamusso, who was on hand at the premiere.
With Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American and now Catch A Fire to his
credit in succession, Phillip Noyce appears to be leaving the
blockbuster action movies behind and moving into the realm of serious
but still mainstream cinema. These are all very proficient films with
interesting stories that contain relevant social and political
messages. It is noteworthy that the three are all based on historical
This style of film-making is much more interesting than films like Syriana or (especially) The Constant Gardener. In those, the director appears to make a show of promoting a worthy world view, but doesn't really seem committed to the political cause. It felt gratuitous, the director simply exploiting our interest in political conspiracies without necessarily sharing that interest. Whatever it takes to get bums on seats.
It is a difficult balance for a director. You want to do a story that you know is going to be hard to sell. So you need a big name or two to get the studio on board. But then you're stuck with a highly recognisable face that everyone knows is American but has to use an Afrikaaner accent.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Tim Robbins was completely believable as the South African police interrogator. His accent seemed flawless, and with his excellent acting I was able to buy-in to his character immediately. And I assumed that Derek Luke, who played the protagonist Patrick Chamusso, was African. In fact, he's from LA and has appeared in Spartan and Antwone Fisher (in the title role).
Apartheid, like say Nazism or so-called terrorism, is an easy target. It doesn't take much effort to totally demonise even minor participants, even though they may be ordinary people. Noyce skilfully avoided such caricatures. Using effective cinematic devices, he was able to portray that both the protagonist and the antagonist had much in common. They both had two daughters, and both loved their families and their country. But one became a torturer and one became the tortured.
Noyce's portrayal of Apartheid was very balanced. Robbin's character Vos was a family man with a job. His family loved him, but at work he was a man to be feared. Torture is a method that has been shown to not work. Both Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo and Noyce's Catch A Fire illustrate this by depicting false confessions that were actually made by innocents. According to Noyce at the Q&A session that proceeded the film, the confessions made by Chamusso after he joined the ANC were deliberately sparse on detail and designed to appease but ultimately frustrate his interrogators.
I asked Noyce if the film was making a statement about current world events, and he acknowledged that it was. It is very relevant to the war on terror and the West's turning to inhumane methods. "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter", he quoted. Patrick Chamusso was a hero, he said, not because he took up arms, but because he renounced them. The ANC had a policy of not harming innocents, but this wasn't always the case. Chamusso was unsuccessful (and was jailed), because he was careful to follow this policy.
Phillip Noyce is showing himself to be a deft master of quietly subversive films with commercial appeal, but ultimately they are socio-political commentaries with a strong humanitarian element. This film should have wide appeal among both casual movie-goers and the more serious cinephiles.
It's a shame this movie was so overshadowed by Blood Diamond. Catch A
Fire had, in my opinion, a much more powerful story.
All acting was done perfect. I loved the cinematography with the plant in the background. I could really feel the emotion of the Africans chanting and singing for freedom.
Some will say this movie is racist towards white people. It is nothing of the sort. It even has a white or two on the side for justice. This movie didn't make Tim Robbin's character look evil. At least I didn't think so. I saw him as a man doing what he thought he needed to do to protect his family.
I think we need to learn from this story. There are terrorists all over the world. We say they are pure evil. We say we will solve the problem by hunting them down and killing them. With some, that may be necessary. But most just want justice, and want to be heard.
As I started watching this movie, I thought Apartheid movies are like Holocaust movies---they are all the same theme repeated over and over again with minor variations. But something about this unfolding picture made me resist the eject button. One factor was, I think, that the Tim Robbins character was magnetically unpredictable. It was hard to predict what kind of a person he would ultimately turn out to be. Secondly, and maybe I missed something at the outset or went in with imperfect knowledge of the circumstances of the film, but only quite late in the picture did I realize that this was a biographical flashback of a national hero. That was refreshing to me. Heroic biopics generally seem to be trying too hard to lionize their subject. And finally, from all aspects of cinematography that a casual user like me can address, the picture was not that badly done. So, if you haven't seen many Apartheid-themed movies and would like to see a decent one, this would be a respectable choice. As a political aside, I found myself hoping that at least a few Americans would watch this picture and say "Hey, that's what we do to suspected terrorists, too!", and consider whether right and wrong are not all that easy to distinguish.
I can't quarrel with those who give this film high praise for powerfully representing the complex humanity of both the oppressor and oppressed with first-rate film-making. Essentially it tells how a capable, peaceable bystander is bullied into becoming a "freedom fighter" (or "terrorist" if you will), at cost. BUT given most of the film's present-tense dramatic intensity, I was disappointed by the sudden lapse into voice-over past tense narration at the end, hastily tacked on it would seem to tell us that though the story seems a downer, historically it all turned out well after all. I'd rather have seen another hour -- maybe less -- that continued the tale on its own terms -- the subject is epic enough to deserve it. Or else seen all that end material separated from the film itself, an end flourish upwards amid the end-credits, performing the job but leaving the main story its own integrity. Too bad. An excellent film, strong but in this regard imperfect.
The remarkable thing about Australian director Phillip Noyce's engaging
political thriller, which is set in the South Africa's apartheid era,
is that he has succeeded in making a thoughtful film in a genre strewn
Derek Luke plays Patrick Chamusso, a (real life) black African who becomes radicalised as a result of his wrongful detention and torture by South Africa's ruling white party. Conscious of his duty to support a family, Patrick keeps his head down, having nothing to do with terrorists and 'trouble-makers' who want to attack the massive oil-refinery where he works as a foreman. Patrick doesn't even let his aging inlaw listen to the 'Radio Freedom' channel. But after a false arrest and incarceration - during which time he is not charged and so has no right to a lawyer - Patrick is beaten senseless and then sees the same treatment meted out to his wife. The experience convert him to the cause as soon as he gets out and he's off to Mozambique to train as an ANC freedom fighter.
Patrick's opponent is Tim Robbins, who plays Nic Vos, the Colonel in an anti-terrorist squad. In a poignant montage, we see Vos receiving a medal, intercut with another shot showing the burial of murdered ANC fighters (who receive a gun-salute).
The average movie would already have made simplistic references to Guantanamo (or any other political hot topic), reduced Chamusso and Vos to mere ciphers, moralised to the point of being patronising, or wallowed in sentimentality. But Noyce is no average director. He has produced sterling thrillers such as The Bone Collector but, more importantly, has shown himself to have a firm grasp of human rights, seen in both his treatment of The Quiet American and Rabbit Proof Fence. This film is about the making of a terrorist, but within a specific historical context, and makes no judgement beyond South Africa.
The hybridisation of South African society is competently developed. Our story is told primarily from the viewpoint of blacks. This is in contrast to the usual Hollywood formula which would show whites mistreating them, and then whites eventually (and heroically) developing more enlightened views. We get to know Patrick, his family, his shortcomings, his daily life and his love of football. Yet focussing too narrowly on him could have turned Catch a Fire into mere polemic. Instead, Robbins is also allowed to develop the character of Vos, who we see as a man doing what he believes is best rather than someone who is an out-and-out monster. The Colonel also has a family he loves, and teaches his daughters that his job is to make the country a safe place for them to live in. He can calmly oversee torture one minute and play good cop the next -yet conveying sincerity to both attitudes.
South Africa today is neither the country that it was under apartheid, nor the country that it was before outside nations established control. Crucial insights paved the way for South Africa's 'freedom' - rather than a victory of one race over another. Concepts like universal sharing and passive resistance. This is epitomised in the film when a saying of Nelson Mandela is recalled - 'we can never be free until we learn to forgive'.
The real life Patrick (who makes a brief appearance in the film) now lives with Conney, a woman he married after his release. They have children of their own and have fostered over 70 AIDS orphans at their Two Sisters charity (http://www.twosisters.org.za/ - which appears in the end-credits). The addition of documentary details may annoy some audiences who wanted to leave the cinema purely after a thriller, but for this viewer the cut to real-life seemed an excellent anchor without giving way to sermonising.
Catch a Fire is a complex political thriller based on at least one historical character. It documents an important chapter of history. The degree to which there are parallels or lessons for other situations in the present day is left entirely for the viewer. What is clear is that Noyce has once again handled a multifaceted and challenging story with skill and even-handedness.
This film didn't have the attention it would have deserved, at least in Europe (no attention at all in Italy..) but it's quite riveting. Elevated and empowered by Tim Robbin's and Derek Luke's performances "Catch a fire" has the right impact and vibrancy. It should raise important political questions in a world obsessed with terrorism and it's also filled with well - staged action scenes. The apartheid era is properly described and the social history developing in this context is certainly remarkable, though not flawless. Compared to other productions dealing with the same subject this one offers a perspective a bit different and more mature and ends up with a surprising forgiveness
In our day and age there are so few real heroes to be proud of or for
our children to aspire to emulate. Catch A Fire tells the story of one
such hero. Set in South Africa in the 1980's, the story tells the
remarkable story of one man's personal journey from laborer and father
to revolutionary of conscience.
In addition, the subject of the film speaks loudly to the audience about the dangers of a government that misuses it's power and the sometimes forceful means that must be undertaken when peaceful measures fail.
See the film, engage your conscience, and follow in the footsteps of a hero.
Apartheid-era South Africa was a time of abuse and persecution by the
white minority onto the black majority. The black South Africans were
looked down upon and segregated at every turn. Any instance of fighting
back was a sign of terrorism and treason. This film, Catch a Fire, is
based on the true-life story of Patrick Chamusso whose life was turned
upside. A man who was apolitical and loving to his family, Chamusso was
unaccounted for during a span of time in which the oil refinery he
worked at was bombed. As a top suspect he was arrested and tortured,
along with his wife to try and make him comply, before finally being
released. Patrick did nothing wrongat least as far as arson goes, the
missing time was due to infidelityand as a result of being accused and
beaten decided to do something his people could be proud of and try to
stop the persecution.
Director Phillip Noyce has brought to the table a tale that not only shows a sympathetic side to the black people of South Africa, but also a side of moral ambiguity to the whites. Playing the head of anti-terrorism is Tim Robbins in a subdued and nuanced performance. He is a man that feels what he is doing is right and necessary for the protection of all South Africans. The bombings and killings need to be stopped for all to live in harmony. Unfortunately, though, he doesn't seem to really see the consequences of his actions in finding out exactly who the leaders of the resistance are. By seeing people as guilty until proved innocent, his compassion to let the non-guilty go, rather than be strung up as a symbol like those around him would like, does little when the innocent turn from the atrocities and become the enemy as a result. Beating those that have not wronged for events they had no part in will eventually eat away at their souls until they realize that something truly is broken with the system, and instead of having one's family hurt for nothing, let the pain and suffering mean something. The mentality soon becomes that if I am tortured for keeping to myself, I might as well fight back to slowly chip away, slowly accomplish something for my trouble.
These are the thoughts that come to Patrick Chamusso after his wife is beaten while he sits and tells the truth about where he had been during the bombing. Played wonderfully by Derek Luke, Patrick is portrayed early on as a loving husband and father, sticking up for friends in a way to amiably keep trouble far away. He helps the local children stay off the streets by coaching them at soccer and he feels pride for the job status he holds at the mine, making a good enough living to support his family, but also understanding his limits and not being greedy to want more than the love of those close to him. The transformation he goes through after being released from wrongful imprisonment is subtle and heartbreaking. He leaves his family behind so as to help his people in a guerilla war; he must leave in order to come back without the guilt or embarrassment the Afrikaners have instilled in him. All the scenes in the terrorist camp are intriguing and well-made, good people doing the only thing left that they can do in a world closing in on them.
Emotions run high during the course of the film. Faces of anguish and pain are always cropped close in to see the souls screaming behind dampened eyes. Everyone is played against each other through lies and deceit with each turn adding to the powder keg that you know has to eventually let loose. The addition of many African tribal songs helps create mood as well as the back and forth between English and the South African native tongue. All the supporting roles also add depth to the proceedings, especially Bonnie Mbuli as Chamusso's wife Precious and those playing Robbins' character's children and wife. Noyce show us both sides of the equation in his film and asks us the question of how far we'd be willing to go to do what's right, no matter what side we are on.
Catch a Fire is surprisingly powerful and emotional. This emotion is assisted by a very moving soundtrack of South African music. The emotion is also feed by a brutal force of "anti-terrorists", with some of their interrogation techniques being very hard to watch for a PG-13 rated film. Though most violence is implied the film still does a very good job of portraying the brutality of the treatment that suspected terrorists in South Africa received. This film also does a great job of showing the terrorists side of the fight and offers insight into their motivation. The film focuses on people and their motivations and anyone can identify with almost every character. Despite being based on a true story and being a fairly realistic portrayal of the actual events, this film somehow manages to have enough action and suspense to have a fairly high entertainment value. A must see for anyone who enjoys historical films or drama/thrillers. 9/10
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