Apartheid-era South Africa was a time of abuse and persecution by the white minority onto the black majority. The black South Africans were looked down upon and segregated at every turn. Any instance of fighting back was a sign of terrorism and treason. This film, Catch a Fire, is based on the true-life story of Patrick Chamusso whose life was turned upside. A man who was apolitical and loving to his family, Chamusso was unaccounted for during a span of time in which the oil refinery he worked at was bombed. As a top suspect he was arrested and tortured, along with his wife to try and make him comply, before finally being released. Patrick did nothing wrong—at least as far as arson goes, the missing time was due to infidelity—and as a result of being accused and beaten decided to do something his people could be proud of and try to stop the persecution.
Director Phillip Noyce has brought to the table a tale that not only shows a sympathetic side to the black people of South Africa, but also a side of moral ambiguity to the whites. Playing the head of anti-terrorism is Tim Robbins in a subdued and nuanced performance. He is a man that feels what he is doing is right and necessary for the protection of all South Africans. The bombings and killings need to be stopped for all to live in harmony. Unfortunately, though, he doesn’t seem to really see the consequences of his actions in finding out exactly who the leaders of the resistance are. By seeing people as guilty until proven innocent, his compassion to let the non-guilty go, rather than be strung up as a symbol like those around him would like, does little when the innocent turn from the atrocities and become the enemy as a result. Beating those that have not wronged for events they had no part in will eventually eat away at their souls until they realize that something truly is broken with the system, and instead of having one’s family hurt for nothing, let the pain and suffering mean something. The mentality soon becomes that if I am tortured for keeping to myself, I might as well fight back to slowly chip away, slowly accomplish something for my trouble.
These are the thoughts that come to Patrick Chamusso after his wife is beaten while he sits and tells the truth about where he had been during the bombing. Played wonderfully by Derek Luke, Patrick is portrayed early on as a loving husband and father, sticking up for friends in a way to amiably keep trouble far away. He helps the local children stay off the streets by coaching them at soccer and he feels pride for the job status he holds at the mine, making a good enough living to support his family, but also understanding his limits and not being greedy to want more than the love of those close to him. The transformation he goes through after being released from wrongful imprisonment is subtle and heartbreaking. He leaves his family behind so as to help his people in a guerilla war; he must leave in order to come back without the guilt or embarrassment the Afrikaners have instilled in him. All the scenes in the terrorist camp are intriguing and well-made, good people doing the only thing left that they can do in a world closing in on them.
Emotions run high during the course of the film. Faces of anguish and pain are always cropped close in to see the souls screaming behind dampened eyes. Everyone is played against each other through lies and deceit with each turn adding to the powder keg that you know has to eventually let loose. The addition of many African tribal songs helps create mood as well as the back and forth between English and the South African native tongue. All the supporting roles also add depth to the proceedings, especially Bonnie Mbuli as Chamusso’s wife Precious and those playing Robbins’ character’s children and wife. Noyce show us both sides of the equation in his film and asks us the question of how far we’d be willing to go to do what’s right, no matter what side we are on.
Catch a Fire 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
 Derek Luke (center) stars as Patrick Chamusso in Phillip Noyce’s CATCH A FIRE, a Focus Features release
 Tim Robbins stars in Phillip Noyce’s CATCH A FIRE, a Focus Features release.