A review of “Catch a Fire” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for torture, violence and some language

Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

 

 

Politically aware director Philip Noyce (“The Quiet American”) tackles the hot button issues of apartheid by focusing on a contemporary hero’s journey to freedom.

Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) is a good man – a devoted father and husband to Precious (Bonnie Henna) who holds down a decent job as a foreman at the local South African oil refinery.

A series of unfortunate events turns Patrick’s world on its ear as he is summarily arrested for participating in sabotage at the plant. Tripped up by a sticky alibi – sneaking off to visit an ex-squeeze and their love child – Patrick is forced to endure hours or tortuous interrogation under the watchful eye of Nic Vos (Tim Robbins), a colonel in South Africa’s feared Police Security Branch.

When Vos gets his dirty hands on Precious Patrick is stunned into action and immediately reorganizes his priorities, leaving Precious and his two small daughters behind to turn rebel warrior and political operative.

There’s everything to admire about this contemporary champion and the firm stance he takes on behalf of his people and his country. But Noyce doesn’t tread new ground here – “Fire” has a parallelism about it, a seen-it-before quality (“A Dry White Season”? “In My Country”?) that only intermittently launches it beyond the run-of-the-mill melodrama.

The torture is heavy-handed yet the film sends mix messages regarding Vos, begging sympathy but characterizing the man as an apartheid monster. Robbins’ thick South African accent is awkward at best.

Luke is a quality performer; it’s not his fault that the narrative lacks the spark and explosive energy of the very real struggle for racial integration.

Patrick’s heroics, preachy to a fault, culminate in a treacly message – we can never be free unless we learn to forgive. Words to live by, but I want them backed up with emotional and political punch.