Catch a Fire
Based on a real-life story, Catch a Fire cuts open the flesh and exposes the innards of South African freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso (Antwone Fisherís Derek Luke), a simple-minded oil refinery foreman-turned-political rebel. Australian director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence) once again demonstrates his gift for explicit and heartfelt storytelling in a movie that both makes a mockery of government and terrorist backlash and instills a tremendous fear of the system that claims to protect people. The irony here is that itís only after Patrick and his wife, Precious (Bonnie Henna), endure an unjust and bestial persecution at the hands of police security Col. Nic Vos (Tim Robbins) that Patrick actually turns rebel political operative--with the shell of an innocent man, the police security branch creates the terrorist they seek.
The bombing of the Secunda Oil Plant in the early 1980s ignites a violent and widespread terrorist investigation. As a foreman at the plant, Patrick is taken into police custody, where he is slowly force-fed a desire for revenge. After a long, brutal interrogation, he is released under the pretense that he is innocent of the charges brought against him, but it is not his own suffering that reshapes his way of thinking and transforms the transparent man into an outraged activist. Only after he witnesses the defilement of his wife does Patrickís moral and political consciousness get triggered. He joins the African National Congress (ANC) freedom fighters, an outlawed activist group that fights apartheid.
The stoic, chilling Col. Vos and Patrick dance around each other throughout the movie to a tune by Bob Marley, a twisted waltz of hide-and-seek. As Patrick is hardened, he becomes more adversarial--taking on the metallic characteristics of a man who is one part human and two parts political machine. The unjust violence and police brutality soaks into Patrickís core, invoking in him a responsibility to justice through revolt--or through whatever means necessary. His complacent personality bends to fit the mold of a radical, and it isnít long before he devises a follow-up attack on the oil refinery. With his knowledge of the plant, Patrick envisions a changed Africa through the flames of destruction, a philosophy that rebukes the nonviolence and nonresistant methods of reform.
Shot in Cape Town, Mozambique, and Johannesburg, Catch a Fire is a layered sociological nightmare shot like a photographerís wet dream. Even its obvious Hollywoodisms--violence, explosions, and classic chase thrills--donít tarnish its potent sincerity, for which you can credit screenwriter Shawn Slovo, the daughter of South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo.
Noyce and Slovo solicit many questions, but the one that returns forbiddingly throughout is, Who is actually the terrorist? This movie resonates with a current American climate that has turned a blind eye toward an administration that exceedingly deals blows in the name of a war against terror--have we stopped asking what terror is? Although set in South Africa, Fireís social commentary speaks to self-contented, world-weary masses at large, exploring the valves and crevices of a universal vein: oppressive regimes. A must-see film if not a feel-good movie, Catch a Fire succeeds in affecting and stirring an innermost subversive desire that has somehow been silenced. Revolution is an old theme--and sadly remains one that hasnít lost its relevance.