Catch a Fire (2006) Poster

(2006)

User Reviews

Add a Review
60 ReviewsOrdered By: Helpfulness
Worth a look
jtur8827 February 2007
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.
34 out of 36 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
8/10
Great film-making
Paul Martin25 November 2006
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 facts.

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.
52 out of 60 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Hyper-realistic, emotional and fair minded
relian-111 September 2006
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.
75 out of 92 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
Not bad
ctg072420 March 2007
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.
41 out of 49 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Expertly handled political thriller
Chris_Docker23 March 2007
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 with pitfalls.

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.
23 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
7/10
thought provoking and mature film
antoniotierno10 July 2007
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
16 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
8/10
Powerful and sustained but at the end, an artistic flaw
Dick-11418 October 2006
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.
37 out of 53 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
Catch a Fire is powerful and emotional
Michael Kiely27 October 2006
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
24 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
7/10
A powerful story well told
Spaceygirl25 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A powerful story well told in skillful hands. Philip Noyce, of Rabbitproof Fence fame, once again takes a story of oppression and just tells the story, without apportioning blame or taking sides. The script is marvellous and the acting uniformly good. Tim Robbins and Derek Lucas both affecting near-flawless South African accents, take the male leads and put in outstanding roles. Tim Robbins as the Afrikaner cop is a character difficult to understand, at one point he takes his prisoner home for Sunday dinner with his family and in another scene oversees the beating-up and torture of innocent people. Derek Lucas is equally good as a man who's only interest lies with his family and job before being arrested and ultimately backed into a course of action that he could not have foreseen. Michelle Botes and Bonnie Mbuli are both excellent South African actresses who play the respective wives, Bonnie Mbuli in particular putting in a very affecting role as the wife who stands by helplessly as her husband spirals into a new life which does not include her or her children. H
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
A film of conscience set in the 1980s which has eye-opening relevance today.
MrJeffStak12 October 2006
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.
26 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
loading
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews