Friday, March 23, 2007

CATCH A FIRE - earnest, important, dull

CATCH A FIRE is an earnest drama based on the true story of a black South African man called Patrick Chamusso. He was a successful foreman in the power-plant that supplied half the country's electricity. He cared for his wife, his two daughters and coaching the local footie team: he kept himself away from the ANC's rising campaign of terror and fight for liberation. The defining moment of his life was the point at which he was wrongfully arrested for committing a terrorist attack on the power plant. The white South Africans' brutal treatment of his wife prompted him to leave the country, join the ANC and return as fully-trained freedom fighter.

The movie is nicely-filmed and well-acted. Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) does well in his role as Chamusso and the supporting cast is fine, despite Tim Robbins risible attempt at a white South African accent in his role as the head of the Anti-terrorist squad, Nic Vos. However, the film falls well-short of the claim on the poster that it is a "thriller". There is a little chase at the end as the army tries to hunt down Chamusso before he blows up the power plant, but for the most part this is not an action film in the BLOOD DIAMOND vein, but a drama about a man's coming to political consciousness.

And here we find a problem. Because the movie never really gets inside the skin of the lead character. Chamusso is never more than a cipher - observing the surrounding political events and leading the viewer through the landscape. In particular, the movie skips over the two parts of Chamusso's life that I thought would have been really interesting: how he got through his long imprisonment on Robben Island and how he came to forgive Nic Vos. I find this whole concept fascinating: the idea that a whole country could go through a truth and reconciliation process. And here, through two men, we could have had a glimpse at how such a process worked. Sadly, this second act is wrapped up with undue haste by the director.

So, while CATCH A FIRE is an important story, it also makes for 90 minutes of desperately dull cinema. Moreover, it's a big disappoinment for fans of Phillip Noyce's previous films, RABBIT PROOF FENCE and THE QUIET AMERICAN.

CATCH A FIRE was released in the US and Australia in 2006 and in Kuwait, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Singapore, Japan, Egypt and France earlier this year. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in the Netherlands on April 19th and in Italy on June 23rd. CATCH A FIRE is also available on Region 1 DVD.

No comments:

Post a Comment