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Catch a Fire
A political thriller that would cause controversy, were it not set in Africa
Catch a Fire
Tim Robbins Stars in "Catch a Fire".
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $17,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

June 16th, 2006: In 1980, in the Apartheid era South Africa, non-whites struggle with cruel and racist treatment due to existing separation laws. Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) is fortunate enough to have a home, a family, and a newly acquired job at the Secunda Oil Refinery and has no legitimate motivation for involvement in anti-Apartheid movements. During a day off from work, following a morning of coaching his soccer team, Patrick visits a son that he has secretly fathered with his ex-girlfriend. At the same time, the refinery where he works is struck by a group of terrorists, with an attempt to blow it up. Patrick is arrested as a suspect, interrogated, and tortured. To avoid exposing his double life and hurting his loved ones back at home, he keeps his alibi to himself. When his wife Precious (Bonnie Mbuli) is also arrested and beaten, Patrick gives in and lies by confessing to a crime he did not commit. Nic Vos (Tim Robbins), in contrast a much more reasonable white policeman than his fellow colleagues, sees through his confession and releases him. Patrick becomes a changed man, joins the outlawed African National Congress (ANC), and volunteers to destroy the Secunda Oil Refinery all by himself. When Vos learns of the plot, he begins a manhunt for Patrick, aka “Hotstuff.”

What to Expect: The racial segregation in South Africa, known as the Apartheid, lasted from 1948 to 1993. Under the law enforced system, people were divided into four groups: white, black, Indian, and colored. Each group was assigned a territory and given rights, such as the ability to vote, primarily within those designated territories. This meant that a non-white person living within the white South Africa had no influence whatsoever and was restricted to his rights only in some poor, faraway lands that he never visited. Public services such as education and health care were also subject to separation, with services for white people having generally superior quality. The Apartheid was condemned internationally as unjust and racist.

Article continues below

Catch a Fire is based on actual events that occurred in the 1980s. While Nelson Mandela was locked up for treason in the Robben Island prison, the banned and exiled ANC was engaging in sabotage against the Apartheid government. Patrick Chamusso, on the other hand, had found a job at the Secunda Oil Refinery, the largest coal-to-oil plant in the entire world. He preferred his simple family life to the underground movements. His wrongful arrest and subsequent interrogation and torture by the South African Special Branch forever altered his outlook and led him to Mozambique where he joined the ANC and received his military training. He volunteered to single-handedly carry out the operation to blow up the Secunda Oil Refinery and as per specific instructions, only property was damaged during the explosion. Following a massive manhunt, Chamusso was caught, but not until several tense days had passed since the bombing. During the next nine months, he was held in captivity without a trial and was subject to more brutal torture. His eventual 24-year prison sentence ended in 1994 after approximately ten years when he and all other political prisoners received amnesty.

The film was shot on location in South Africa in many of the places that Patrick Chamusson inhabited. Permission was granted to the filmmakers to shoot at the Secunda Oil Refinery after months of negotiations. One of the scenes will actually feature the real Chamusson back at the plant where he used to work and where he carried out his attack. His cameo will be alongside Derek Luke, the actor portraying him. The film’s climax will also take place at the refinery at nighttime, which should provide for some amazing visuals.

Robyn Slovo, who is one of the film’s producers, and Shawn Slovo, who wrote the screenplay, are actually daughters of Joe Slovo and Ruth First, pioneer white activists who stood up against the Apartheid government. Joe and Ruth joined the ANC, while in exile. As the former Chief of Staff of the MK, the Military Wing of the ANC, Joe was actually the brains behind the attack on the refinery that Chamusso carried out. In 1982, Ruth was assassinated in Mozambique by a parcel bomb that was sent to her by the South African Special Branch. That’s quite a background that Robyn and Shawn bring into the production, but it is not the first time either one has been involved in making a motion picture since both have worked in the industry for numerous years now. Robyn has made miscellaneous contributions to films and has produced several, including The Statement with Michael Caine. Shawn’s screenplay credits include Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, with Nicolas Cage and Penélope Cruz.

Director Noyce has a knack for politically charged thrillers. His credits include the more conventional Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, but he received widespread acclaim for his previous two features, both of which came out late in 2002. Rabbit-Proof Fence was a powerfully mesmerizing account of a true story of three little girls, who, due to their mixed white-Aborigonal race, were taken from their Aboriginal mothers by the government to be re-entered into mainstream society. The girls escaped and made an epic 1,500-mile journey back to their families across cruel Australian landscapes, following a fence that stretched across the country. Noyce’s The Quiet American revealed fascinating insights about secretive American terrorist acts in Vietnam during the war. The controversial picture became even more highly regarded than Rabbit-Proof Fence and was positioned as an Oscar hopeful. The director seems perfectly matched for the material in Catch a Fire and his penchant for authenticity and location shooting will serve the picture immeasurably.

Both Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American were largely personal stories that utilized the political situations of the moment as the context. Similarly, Catch a Fire will not be a film directly about the Apartheid, but rather will use it as the environment in a story of individual struggle. The movie is not likely to treat Patrick Chamusson as a hero or a martyr, but rather as an ordinary man who chooses to take power against injustice. Knowing Noyce, his actions will probably carry that ambiguous tone of being simultaneously appropriate and questionable. In the end, the film will probably be about Chamusson’s personal redemption and the great cost that comes with his victory.

In Conclusion: For Derek Luke, this could be the star-making role that finally gets him attention during the awards season. His rebellious character in Antwone Fisher probably should have prepared him well to play the maverick Chamusso. This also looks to be the most important project for Tim Robbins in a while. He’s been in a bit of a slump since winning his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Mystic River. Noyce is going to receive some award attention as well in what is bound to become another well-researched, important, and intelligent film for him. Unfortunately, audiences may not show much interest in a political thriller set in Africa, although last year’s The Constant Gardener would probably have to be listed as an exception to the rule.

Similar Titles: Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American, The Constant Gardener
October 27th, 2006 (wide)
January 30th, 2007 (DVD)

Focus Features

Phillip Noyce

Tim Robbins, Derek Luke, Bonnie Mbuli

Total: 32 vote(s).


Click here to view site

Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving torture and abuse, violence and brief language.

101 min

English, Afrikaans, Zulu





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