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Catch A Fire

Derek Luke and Tim Robbins in Catch A Fire

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Director Philip Noyce, Roby Slovo, Patrick Chammuso, Shawn Slovo, Tim Robbins, Derek Luke And Bonnie Henna; Deleted Scenes.

PHILIP Noyce may have cut his teeth on mainstream Hollywood thrillers such as Patriot Games, Clear And Present Danger and Sliver but of late he’s turned his hand to thought-provoking political dramas such as Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American. He’s clearly found his niche.

Catch A Fire, his latest, recalls the true story of Patrick Chamusso, an everyman oil refinery foreman quietly making his way in 1980s South Africa, who was mistreated by the authorities and subsequently compelled to become a bomber.

It also follows the role played by police chief Colonel Nic Vos in this transformation.

As played by Derek Luke and Tim Robbins respectively, the film is anchored by two powerful performances that refuse to provide audiences with any easy answers.

Vos is a monster, yes, but he’s also a committed family man and not entirely unsympathetic towards Chamusso’s early plight. Set against the context of Apartheid-era South Africa, Vos is portrayed as a man trapped by circumstance rather than personal motivation.

Chamusso, too, is no saint. As happily married as he appears at the beginning of the film, he has also been guilty of infidelity and it’s this past indiscretion that ultimately leads Vos to suspect him of being a bomber in the first place.

His treatment at the hands of Vos and the authorities is unforgivable and ultimately prompts him to take matters into his own hands and take up arms with the African National Congress (ANC) in order to finish the job he was accused of plotting in the first place (namely, the bombing of his oil refinery).

But at what cost do his actions come? Chamusso’s decision to turn militant comes at the expense of his family and he loses sight of the values he once held dear.

Catch A Fire works first and foremost as a compelling human drama, examining the psychological effects of freedom fighting from two very different perspectives.

Both Chamusso and Vos believe in what they are doing, no matter how misguided their actions, and both pay a heavy price.

Luke and Robbins prove notable adversaries and their performances stay on the right side of believable; neither resorts to anything showy.

The film’s basis in reality heightens the interest level, particularly in light of current events and the continued debate surrounding the distinction between freedom fighters and terrorists, as well as the effect of oppressive regimes on the human spirit.

And the final scenes, when the real life Chamusso gets a moment in front of the camera, lend the film a resonance and a parting message that’s difficult to ignore.

Catch A Fire may ultimately lack the big spark that will guarantee it a massive audience, but it’s a powerful experience in its own way that has plenty to say.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 102mins