CATCH A FIRE (2006)
Starring Tim Robbins, Derek Luke, Bonnie Henna, Robert Hobbs, Mncedisi Shabangu, Tumisho K. Masha, Sithembiso Khumalo, Terry Pheto, Michele Burgers, Mpho Lovinga, Mxo, Jessica Anstey, Charlotte Savage and Nomhle Nkonyeni.
Screenplay by Shawn Slovo.
Directed by Phillip Noyce.
Distributed by Focus Features. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13.
With the world at war and the specter of terror lurking in dark corners, perhaps it is important or vital to recall that sometimes terrorism is not because of political or religious beliefs. Sometimes the act is a call to arms to rally a downtrodden population to stand up for themselves or to insist on compassion.
Catch a Fire is a true story from early-80s South Africa, just a few heartbeats before the overthrown of apartheid. A crippling blow was landed by Patrick Chamusso (played with passioniate restraint by Derek Luke), a factory worker in Johannesburg’s largest refinery.
Chamusso was never a political man, in fact he was completely neutral on most matters. This all changed when he was arrested on a bogus charge based solely on suspicion. When Patrick refused (in fact was unable) to admit the crime to an outwardly sympathetic secret police leader named Nic Vos (Tim Robbins), the authorities took it out on Chamusso’s wife, bringing her in and torturing her in a nearby cell. Through this act, the police created a renegade in Chamusso, causing him to plan an attack on the refinery as an act of social protest. Unlike most current cases, Chamusso took great pains to insure that property only was destroyed – but no one would be killed.
Of course, with the developments around the world, the idea of torturing prisoners is a timely and disturbing one. Catch a Fire shows that if you strip a man of his dignity and harm him and his family, you may light a flame hotter than you can imagine for justice. (Chamusso eventually ended up spending years on Robbens Island, the same prison which housed Nelson Mandela.)
However, all things are not black and white, and in his performance as Vos, Robbins brings some fascinating shades to Nic Vos. In this strong performance he shows the humanity of a man who is simply a bureaucrat trying to keep his head above water in a world out of control. A man fighting a war because it is his job, even though he realizes that his side is probably losing quickly. You never believe that Vos will cause pain, however he is not about delegating the torture.
Change is not always caused by the important, well-known martyrs to a cause like Stephen Biko or Nelson Mandela. Sometimes it is brought about by the little people like Chamassu, who will tow the line as long as they can before they are driven to act. Catch a Fireis a fascinating look at recent history and a stirring reminder of that spirit. (10/06)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 3, 2006.