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Review: Catch a Fire

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Cath A Fire is an excellent film on all levels. Read on:

To be human is to eventually have to choose — choose friends, choose lovers, choose a job, choose sides. Inaction, too, is a choice, every bit as much as any proactive selection. When faced with injustice or aggrievance, one can cling to submission and let the water of wrongness wash over them, or one can stand.

In America, of course — with a hotly divided series of mid-term elections looming — that choice can be a vote. In other places and times, though, to choose means something else entirely, something much more difficult. Shot on location in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Mozambique, director Philip Noyce’s Catch a Fire tells the story of one such demanding choice.

Continuing some of the themes touched upon in his somber 2002 two-fer of the Vietnam-set The Quiet American and the Australian-set Rabbit-Proof Fence (the latter of which rang up $10 million overseas and another $6 million Stateside) Noyce delivers in Catch a Fire a powerful, involving drama about the slippery slope of absolute authority and the warped decisions that it leads those in control to make in an effort to retain said power.

To call Catch a Fire a “political thriller” is an exercise in exaggeration. It’s very much a movie rich with the potential for allegory, but it generally keeps politics at quite a polite arms’ length; similarly, it’s not chock full of action scenes, but it does cultivate a certain amount of tension and dread as its protagonist first suffers undue humiliation and then becomes the very thing that he’s been falsely accused of being — a political revolutionary.

Based on the real-life story of Patrick Chamusso, Catch a Fire takes place chiefly in apartheid-era South Africa. Patrick (Antwone Fisher’s Derek Luke) is an apolitical refinery foreman, soccer coach and family man until an explosion at his plant places he and his friends under a cloud of suspicion.

Tasked with rounding up the responsible members of the African National Congress, or ANC — an expatriate rebel group that operates out of neighboring Mozambique — anti-terror unit chief Nic Vos (Tim Robbins) arrests and questions Patrick, in a fashion at first cajoling but then one that certainly borders on torture. While Patrick is innocent, there’s a mitigating circumstance. He’s faithful to his wife, Precious (Bonnie Henna), and adores his two daughters, ages 8 and 6, but Patrick also has an older, illegitimate son out of wedlock, and still keeps in touch with the boy’s mother. It’s them he was visiting on the night in question, though when he finally tells the truth, Nic sees it as a ploy, and has Precious picked up and beaten by a government-sanctioned anti-terror squad.

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