Case Number 20768


Magnolia Pictures // 2010 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // February 23rd, 2011

The Charge

United by revolution. Divided by the past.

Opening Statement

A gentle and sensitive romantic drama, Night Catches Us (Blu-ray) sets a human interest story squarely in the midst of political and social revolution.

Facts of the Case

The year is 1976 and Marcus Washington (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker) is returning home to his Philadelphia neighborhood for the first time in four years, after fleeing under violent and mysterious circumstances during the Black Power movement. Now years later, things have quieted down, but tensions remain on the surface, and suspicion falls on Marcus from his former friends.

Marcus strikes up a relationship with an old flame, Patricia (Kerry Washington, Fantastic Four) but soon finds conflict with the organization he once embraced. Marcus is suspected of orchestrating the slaying of their former comrade-in-arms -- Patricia's husband, and the father of her young daughter.

The Evidence

Night Catches Us may not be the film audiences might expect. Given the inflammable nature of the historical subject matter -- Black Panthers in 1976 Philadelphia -- one naturally expects something a bit more raucous and controversial, not the calm, introspective, and tender love story that emerges. By 1976, the Black Panther Party was largely dead; the people responsible for stirring up sweeping change and political discourse were either dead or in jail. Those left behind start to put their lives back together warily, in an America they did not fully trust or embrace. It's a unique backdrop for a film to say the least, but it feels natural and organic.

Night Catches Us is a character drama, first and foremost. Set amidst the blossoming romance between Patricia and Marcus are a loosely knit group of ex-militants, trying to find purpose in their life after the revolution ended. Patricia has a strong job, but finds herself haunted by ghosts of the past -- her husband shot dead by police officers in her living room -- and a quizzical daughter desperate to understand what kind of man her father was. Marcus returns to a city much like he left, a pariah, marked as a traitor by his former friends and brothers. Others, like Patricia's cousin Jimmy, an angry young teenager, struggle to find their place in a changing world. Full of rage, he turns to old ideologies now abandoned, with disastrous results.

Carefully constructed with the skill of a polished director and a confident visual style, Night Catches Us is all the more impressive coming from first-time writer/director Tanya Hamilton. The camera moves languidly with a refined grace, a keen attention to negative space and landscape scenery to set tone and mood. She is definitely a talent to watch. A good character drama depends on fine acting performances, and Night Catches Us delivers. Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie have strong chemistry, and The Wire alumni Wendell Pierce and Jamie Hector are always welcome faces. Even Black Thought from The Roots, Tariq Trotter, gets a small role as Marcus' brother Bostic.

I watched Night Catches Us twice, admiring its poise and dignity. By all rights, this could have been a much angrier film. In the hands of someone like Spike Lee, it would be a caustic thing, full of rage and disillusionment, as brilliant as a burning star. Instead, Night Catches Us takes a measured, almost meditative approach, interested in the people and the interconnected tangle of human lives. This is a film that understands the futility of violence, and instead finds beauty and structure in the subtle nuances of its characters.

Shot on video, Night Catches Us (Blu-ray) looks handsome in 1080p, presented in a simplistic and straightforward, almost documentary style. Colors are balanced and natural, with white levels washed out into warm green and yellow tones, the slightest of vintage sepia tones to suggest age. Detail is sharp and black levels are balanced. Audio comes in a straightforward DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which gets the job done quite well. The film is simple and mostly dialogue-driven, which is clear and mixed in the center channel. Rear channels get some environmental effect now and again, but mostly serve to fill out the excellent score by Philadelphia natives The Roots. This is a clean and straightforward treatment.

Extras include deleted and alternate scenes (including alternate opening and endings), behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, a photo gallery, and a HDNet featurette.

Closing Statement

A simple, sentimental, and sophisticated romantic drama, Night Catches Us is a marvelous debut from a talented filmmaker.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 94
Audio: 90
Extras: 45
Acting: 84
Story: 85
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)

* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurettes
* Interviews
* Photo Gallery

* IMDb

* Official Site