Catch a Fire Review: Realism Shines Strong

October 26, 2006

Catch a Fire is accomplished director Phillip Noyce's latest film, shot on location in Johannesburg, South Africa and set during the politically-tumultuous 1980s. It tells the captivating story of a native whose family and life are torn apart when he's accused of a terrorist crime that he did not commit. I had hoped to find in Catch a Fire the realism and compelling storytelling that made Fernando Meirelles's masterpiece City of God so powerful, but unfortunately did not. Although that realism is there, Catch a Fire lacks the many finer details that Meirelles included in City of God. However, Catch a Fire is a stunning film in its own right with great performances and provides an engrossing experience.

Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) is a loving husband and a caring father of two daughters. He works hard as the foreman at an oil refinery making barely enough to live in a paper shack in the slums. The times in Apartheid-era South Africa are rough and yet Patrick lives his life completely uninvolved in all political issues. The activist African National Congress (ANC) is constantly making terrorist attacks and eventually hits the refinery where Patrick works. Nic Vos (Tim Robbins) is a Colonel in the Police Security Branch and, although a family man himself, feels threatened by the ratio of races in South Africa and the uprising of the ANC. After terrorists attack the refinery, Nic arrests Patrick as a suspect and has his men torture Patrick to try and reveal information about the ANC. After Patrick is released, he feels driven to get back at Nic to show his own family what it means to live for a just cause.

During the lighter moments, Catch a Fire is overlaid with the sweet sounds of the rebellious Bob Marley, paralleling the experiences and emotions that Patrick goes through. Patrick's whole life is turned upside down and he changes from being one of the most compassionate individuals in the community to fighting for what he believes is right. After seeing what the Police Security Branch did to his family and his friends, you can't help but be overcome by sadness and grief, and subsequently supportive of Patrick's own terrorist intentions. Director Philip Noyce has done such an amazing job at storytelling that the viewers end up feeling very close to Patrick and are hit deeply with every cringing decision he must make.

Catch a Fire is based on a true story and conveys a sense of realism. Filming on location in Africa helped greatly, as they had no need to build extraneous sets and could rather capture the true sites and sounds of the area. Only a few of the primary actors were brought in from afar; the remainder, and a majority of the crew, hail from South Africa. Derek Luke fits in perfectly and delivers an impeccably convincing performance of a very structured and exquisite character. Tim Robbins turns in a convincing role as well that will guarantee everyone hates him, "that monster," as Patrick refers to him, by the end of the film. Much of Catch a Fire was enjoyable, but it left me wanting more, wanting a powerful story as incredible as City of God.

I did leave the theater smiling though, largely due to the film's epilogue of clips showing the real-life Patrick Chamusso and Derek Luke meeting in person. Although this wasn't part of the movie, I left with a smile knowing that Catch a Fire had captured accurately the true experiences of the real-life Patrick Chamusso.

Last Word:
Catch a Fire is a touching and emotionally strong movie with a captivating lead character played superbly by Derek Luke. Phillip Noyce succeeds in using the authentic surroundings of South Africa to film and creates realism perfectly. Catch a Fire just doesn't fulfill every desire for excellence that most may be looking for, but it is an enjoyable movie shedding some light on South African Apartheid. Given the grave setting of the film, I did find it uplifting to leave the theater smiling.

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