Derek Luke and Tim Robbins star in Catch a Fire, an Apartheid-era thriller about a black South African man driven to terrorism/freedom fighting and the white terrorism expert sent to capture him. The movie is perhaps a commentary on our own society or simply a dramatic interpretation of Patrick Chamusso's life, but it is a solid if somewhat uninspired film that offers up some drama, action and quality performances.
Luke, who made a splash in 2002's Antwone Fisher, is terrific as Chamusso, who starts out as a family man with a good job and no interest in politics... that is, until he is arrested for terrorism, and, along with his wife, beaten and tortured. He is released, but his rage consumes him and turns him into the man they once thought he was but wasn't, a terrorist. Of course, in reality, a terrorist is someone who is fighting for what he believes in, a freedom fighter who is battling against something he deems so wrong he is willing to sacrifice everything for it. It's a fine line, but Luke handles the character well, establishing him as a protagonist even if he is going about things in a questionable manner. His approach to his character is raw, and it is certainly his best performance since Fisher.
Robbins, while relegated more to a supporting role, is pretty good, although he is never given much time to develop his character. He is best at the beginning when he is shown as more of a gray; he questions himself even while proceeding with his duties (torturing). As the movie progresses, he turns more and more into an evil man, and thus Robbins doesn't get much to play with. There can be little compassion for his character, but then again, maybe that was completely intentional to build up to the final scene of the film. The movie ends in an interesting way and I liked it very much; it offers a clear solution to problems without being too direct.
As for the movie itself, the story is handled well by director Philip Noyce (The Quiet American, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Patriot Games), who has a knack for political/racism-themed films. Catch a Fire is a solid entry in his resume, but there is something missing from this picture. There is little passion to the film, and thus the movie isn't a very memorable one, despite a good story and good acting. The story starts and finishes, but there is nothing momentous about what we just watched. The emotion is limited, and I don't think it is the actors' faults.
Catch a Fire is a decent action-drama, but there is little here to push it to the next level. With the right charisma, this could have been an award contender come February.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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