Universal // 2006 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // February 5th, 2007
The spark that ignites us unites us.
This anti-Apartheid thriller is effective yet seems disconnected to the "facts" it strives to depict. The events portrayed revolve around a black foreman, Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke, Friday Night Lights), who works at the South Africa oil refinery at Secunda. Although the work is hard and the conditions caustic -- in regards to the refining process as well as the white-controlled authority -- he's considered a privileged man among his peers. He lives in a corrugated hovel with his wife, Precious (Bonnie Henna, Drum) and his two children. He tries to remain uninvolved with the brewing black uprising and the efforts of the ANC (African National Congress) to overthrow the apartheid framework and end racial segregation and oppression. But when a "terrorist" explosion rocks part of the refinery, police Colonel Nic Vos (Tim Robbins, War of the Worlds (2005)) descends upon the workers and singles out Patrick as a potential member of the Apartheid resistance. Despite his innocence and alibi, Vos pursues Patrick to the point of arrest and torture. But when Vos also accosts and beats Precious, Patrick finds himself with no choice but to join the ANC and fight to free South Africa.
Catch a Fire is a difficult film because it seemingly weaves in and out of factual basis as suits its plot. As a straight-up action thriller, it succeeds in captivating viewers with its revelation of the aggression and abominable tactics of the Apartheid rule. To this end, the actors are excellent in their roles, Luke turning out a most compelling performance as the physically, mentally, and emotionally tortured Patrick Chamusso. Tim Robbins is duly hiss-worthy in his unflinching (if one-dimensional) portrayal of the relentless Nic Vos. Bonnie Henna as Precious provides the point of struggle that motivates Patrick while also challenges him to reveal a suspected indiscretion against their union. These three characters propel the film aptly and make it an entrancing journey into the realm of the South African situation.
The problem, however, lies in those "facts," as presented here. Without presuming to discount it entirely, other accounts have indicated the ANC, shown here as a noble force focused on destroying the Apartheid framework without incurring civilian casualties, has plenty of challenging evidence against it. The ANC, it has been recorded, engaged in regular attacks and assaults that claimed many uninvolved casualties, including 1983's Church Street bombing that killed 16 and wounded 130. Likewise, it is documented that the ANC also engaged in detainment and torture tactics. To this end, the picture becomes difficult to absorb because of the very blurry line between fact and fiction. Again, to view it as an action movie "inspired by true events" may be more suitable than to regard it a faithful account of Patrick Chamusso's life and involvement in anti-Apartheid rule. Your best bet is to view the film and then research the facts for yourself.
Coming to DVD from Universal under the Focus Features imprint, Catch a Fire proves to be a highly competent disc. The image, framed at an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio, is quite stunning. The detail level is spot on without bearing the unwanted artifacts of over-enhancement. The colors are rendered faithfully with the amber hues of the South African landscapes providing excellent tone and texture to the other visual elements. The audio comes by way of a well-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is largely front anchored yet fills the soundstage impressively at times, especially during the freedom chants. Extras include an audio commentary with Director Philip Noyce, the real Patrick Chamusso, Luke, Robbins, Henna, Writer Shawn Slovo and Producer Robyn Slovo. Their comments focus on the events the film is meant to portray more than providing insight so much into the production itself. It's interesting but may likewise inspire you to research the facts on your own. There are also three deleted scenes that don't add much to the film, hence their excising.
While this court is not in a position to proclaim the verity of the portrayed events depicted in Catch a Fire, it can recommend a viewing based upon the good performances and technical merits of the picture.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio Commentary
* Deleted Scenes