Catch A Fire (2006)

PHILLIP NOYCE

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB

France/United Kingdom/South Africa/USA, 2006.  Focus Features, StudioCanal, Working Title Films, .  Screenplay by .  Cinematography by , .  Produced by , , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

“Your father is the reason this country is safe,” a little girl is told by her mother, in reference to the fact that her father (Tim Robbins) heads up the investigation of terrorists in apartheid-era South Africa. As we find out, however, people like Robbins are the reason the country is dangerous, a fact that is solidified when a peaceful family man () is wrongly arrested in connection with a sabotage bombing at the plant where he is foreman. He is beaten, tortured and released, loses his job and is reduced to desperate circumstances, the perfect reason to actually become the violent insurgent that he was falsely accused of being in the first place, which he does. This true-life drama written by Shawn Slovo (A World Apart) is seriously hampered by the fact that it shouldn’t have taken Hollywood so long to tell so relevant a story; it takes place in 1980 and the film lacks a sense of political necessity thirty years after the fact. This isn’t to say that the issues it deals with don’t currently exist, in South Africa or elsewhere, but it zeroes in so specifically on this particular tale, and soft-shoes around the nastier aspects of the story’s reality so much that it ends up bereft of quite a lot of emotional impact. Robbins has very little to work with since director Phillip Noyce is more interested in making an action-drama than telling a political story, while Luke is absolutely superb; there’s no indication whatsoever that he is actually American and his performance is incredibly graceful. Look for producer Robyn Slovo in a brief cameo portraying her real-life mother Ruth First (upon whom Barbara Hershey’s character in A World Apart was based).

Toronto International Film Festival:  2006

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