June 11, 2007

Catch A Fire (Noyce, 2006)

A blend of the differing sensibilities Noyce brought to The Quiet American and Patriot Games, Catch a Fire deserves more attention than it has received. At times Noyce hems a bit too close to formula, to familiar tropes, and when he does the film suffers, but apart from a few noticeable missteps, this is a finely tuned, intelligent and riveting work, lying somewhere between docudrama and thriller. Noyce leans towards the latter, and the film moves with a vibrant energy and sense of urgency. The inevitable trade-off however, is that the film feels disingenuous at times, a little too simple and neat.

The film charts apartheid era freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso's transformation from apolitical man to armed activist with the appropriate brio, but we aren't given deeper insight into the complex psychological processes that must have accompanied such a transformation. This isn't to say that the film is simplistic. Credit must be given to Noyce and screenwriter Shawn Slovo, who imbue both Chamusso and the film's antagonist, played (a bit too subtly) by Tim Robbins, with moral ambiguity and human nuance. They never allow the film to become as straightforward as "Chamusso: Good, Whites: Bad." Ultimately though, this is Derek Luke's film, and his charismatic performance is good enough to counterbalance the film's weaker points. Luke immerses himself in the character of Chamusso and is able to communicate much of the character's psychology through his eyes and physical gestures. It is a forceful and commanding performance, and anchors the entire film.

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