Barry's Quick Take on Catch a Fire

October 30, 2006

Australian director Phillip Noyce has had one of the most interesting, versatile careers in Hollywood. He first broke onto the scene with Dead Calm, an underrated gem of a thriller (with Nicole Kidman in her American film debut). He followed that up with Blind Fury, an Americanized remake of Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman films (and a supreme guilty pleasure at that). He landed the plum job of helming two Tom Clancy thrillers, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger and the unfortunate position of crafting Sliver and The Saint. He made a huge comeback in 2002, with the mesmerizing The Quiet American and the wonderful Rabbit-Proof Fence. His latest is a political thriller, portraying the true story of the nightmare that African Patrick Chamusso experienced in Apartheid-plagued South Africa.

Chamusso is played by Derek Luke, in a powerful performance, and he's matched by Tim Robbins, who is chilling as a government agent that suspects Patrick is a terrorist and brutally interrogates and psychologically tortures him. The film is stolen, however, by Bonnie Henna, who's terrific playing Chamusso's long-suffering wife. The relationships and back-stories for the characters are well developed and there are some truly harrowing scenes (the most painful being when Chamusso finds his wife a participant in the endless torture sessions). Filmed in Africa and conveying a realistic, slice of life quality that is rare, Noyce allows his complex tale room to build into an efficient but not extraordinary chair grabber. Here's why.

The final scenes show the real Chamusso and provide an update on his life. These scenes are so engaging, it made me wish the entire film were a documentary. Truly, it seems like a real-life probing documentary of the subject matter could've been more thorough and even more hard hitting. The contrived climactic chase sequence is further proof that this would've been better in documentary form. All the same, its well worth seeing, and the performances by Luke, Robbins and especially Henna are top notch. Noyce has done better as a director, though he's never had a subject matter quite as expansive as this one.

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