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Movie feels authentic



Published: Thu, October 26, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Footage during the end offer an update of the movie's subject.

By ROBERT W. BUTLER

KANSAS CITY STAR

In "Catch a Fire" a young black man in apartheid-era South Africa is unjustly accused of terrorism.

He's imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and finally freed without so much as a "Sorry about that."

Upon his release, he's so angry he becomes a terrorist in earnest.

Whether the makers of this film saw the story as a commentary on today's war on terror (which has been accused of actually creating even more terrorists), I cannot say.

But under the direction of Phillip Noyce ("Rabbit Proof Fence"), "Catch a Fire" becomes a suspenseful tale of one man's radicalization and eventual journey through hatred to forgiveness.

Derek Luke ("Antwone Fisher") plays Patrick Chamasso, a real-life foreman at a South African refinery that converts coal into gasoline. The year is 1980 and the apolitical Patrick has it about as good as a black man in South African can have it. He's got a beautiful wife (Bonnie Mbuli), two adorable little girls and his own car. He's a soccer coach.

True, a white cop can stop him, humiliate him and terrorize his family. But Patrick isn't about to get involved in anti-government activities that could jeopardize the life he's built.

When terrorists from the outlawed African National Congress sabotage the gasification plant, Patrick is hauled in as a suspect. Blindfolded and driven to a remote complex of buildings surrounded by cages with exotic birds (whose screeching may cover the sound of human torture), Patrick is beaten and quizzed about his whereabouts on the night of the crime.

Robbins has a role

In charge is Nic Vos (Tim Robbins), a seasoned investigator with a repertoire of good cop/bad cop ploys he uses to break down suspects.

At one point Vos takes the bruised Patrick into his own home to have dinner with Vos' wife and daughters.

Maybe it's an act of kindness. Perhaps it's a calculated effort to convince Patrick that the two men aren't really so different. With Vos you can't be sure.

The film's second half finds Patrick undergoing training at a ANC camp where he prepares for a one-man mission to blow up the refinery where he once worked.

Meanwhile Vos dedicates himself to catching the man he once let go.

Shawn Slovo wrote "Catch a Fire." His late father, Joe Slovo, once led the military wing of ANC and later served as an adviser to South African President Nelson Mandela.

Maybe that's why it feels more authentic than some earlier anti-apartheid films like "Cry Freedom" and "A World Apart" -- films that seemed too eager to show us how hard apartheid was on white people of conscience.

"Catch a Fire" was shot in South Africa and was well-acted by Luke and Robbins, who give their characters complexity and subtlety. Make sure you stay for the closing credits, which run over footage of the real Patrick Chamusso bringing us up to date on his life.




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