Catch A Fire

Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) cares for his family, living a normal life during the era of South African apartheid.  After a bomb blast hits the oil refinery in which he works, Patrick is charged with conspiracy and tortured by the police.  Nic Vos (Tim Robbins), one of the senior ranking policemen, attempts to break Patrick’s spirit.  The ordeal only increases the embers of flame within.  He joins the African National Congress, becoming exactly the type of ‘criminal’ he was accused of being in the first place.
This true story set in the early 1980’s, explores South African white supremism and the dark days of apartheid.  Even though Patrick witnessed the mistreatment of his people, he initially wanted to ‘keep his nose clean’ - avoiding the powderkeg of tension that could explode at any minute.  The actions of Vos and his comrades, finally forced Patrick to stand up for the rights that he felt everyone deserved.  He set about putting a deep chink in the armour of apartheid.  Derek Luke effectively shows the anguish his character felt at not only seeing his family suffer, but also for being forced to take up arms.
As a flipside to Patrick, Tim Robbins as Vos shows a man who appears tired of smothering the growing discontent that would inevitably boil over.  Attempting to out think Patrick, Vos uses any method possible to capture him, making sure all escape routes are sealed.  Whilst being the proud soldier for his government, Vos could see that its’ weakening grip on its subjects allowed more people to become vocal and stand up to its overt racism.  The usually dependable Robbins does his best in an underwritten role that never seems to capture the demons driving the man towards his actions.
Phillip Noyce directs the tightly scripted film with the assured hand of a past master of political thrillers.  The scenes where the police scheme to trap their prey are very chilling, carried out with a dogged efficiency.  One of the messages that comes through is the ability to forgive.  After all the hardship and suffering, the one thing that no amount of torture could erase was the will of the spirit and forgiveness.  This is borne out in an inspiring finale where the real Patrick Chamusso can be seen.  This is one of those rare films where more could have been added, as the story is so compelling. 
The vicious circle of violence that characterised the era is shown, with actions leading to an even worse reaction.  This is an interesting film that could have been more satisfying had the screenplay been more fleshed out.  The journey of the characters and the messages within are moving to watch however, shining a light on South Africa’s recent dark past. 
Rating out of 10:   7

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