Saturday, October 28, 2006

Catch a Fire

With "The Quiet American" and now "Catch a Fire," Aussie director Phillip Noyce has managed to make back-to-back movies about, respectively, America's war in Iraq and then it's broader war on terror, without ever mentioning either.

It's quite a feat, and it's lead to two thoroughly compelling flicks. Just as Noyce's take on "The Quiet American" drew silent but obvious parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, "Catch a Fire" takes on the true story of South African freedom fighter (or terrorist, depending on your perspective) Patrick Chamusso and turns it into a treatise on the use of torture in dealing with terrorism.

But, is it entertaining? Without a doubt. Noyce cut his teeth on back-to-back Tom Clancy adaptations with "Patriot Games" and then "Clear and Present Danger," so he knows how to craft a political thriller that keeps the tension high.

Without giving too much away, the story here, from a fine script by Shawn Slovo (son of the late ANC activist Joe Slovo), is that of Chamusso (Derek Luke), who by almost anyone's standards has a nearly perfect life: He's a foreman at a nuclear power plant, and has a radiantly beautiful wife named Precious (Bonnie Mbuli) and two young daughters. The main arc, which I'll try not to reveal too much about, is what leads him to abandon this comfort zone to join the ANC and take on the Boers who ruled South Africa at the time.

And what gives the movie both heart and soul is the performance of young Mr. Luke, who tells more with his eyes than most actors can even when they're screaming. He carries the movie on his shoulders, and so far I'll add his name next to Leo in "The Departed" as my two sure-fire locks for a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

As his nemesis, Tim Robbins' anti-terrorism agent is often a cartoonish painting of evil, but Noyce brings him back from the brink of that with one key act. WARNING: IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS MOVIE, DO NOT READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH. SKIP IT AND THEN KEEP READING SO YOU WON'T SEE A SERIOUS SPOILER.

The act I'm referring to is what makes Noyce's movie such a compelling study of the use of torture and whether or not it just leads to creating more terrorists. Having driven Luke's Chamusso to confessing to a terrorist act he didn't commit, Robbins' character lets him go, realizing the confession just couldn't be true. It's this Catch-22 that is the crux of this difficult issue. By letting this formerly peaceful man loose after making him endure hideous treatment while in captivity, it only creates a dedicated soldier in the ANC army that would, of course, eventually triumph. It's a powerful punch right to the viewers' gut.


Since Mr. Noyce, unlike Clint Eastwood, knows how to end his movie while he's ahead, I'll now try to do the same. Just go see this one if you like smart political thrillers, and if not, see Saw III with the rest of the world, I guess.

P.S. Dear Hilary Swank: The trailer for your new movie, "Freedom Writers," just looks atrocious. Playing the cliched white teacher who steps in to save a group of kids from the 'hood just worked wonders for Michelle Pfeiffer's career, so I guess you just wanted to follow in her footsteps. But I like you, so I hope you survive this bomb unscathed.


Anonymous said...

I Have Tagged You. Oblige or die.

P.S. Yep. Swank trailer looks sucky.

SamuraiFrog said...

Between "The Quiet American" and "Catch a Fire" (which I cannot wait to see), Noyce also made "Rabbit-Proof Fence," about two Aborigine girls making their way from a "re-education camp" back to their home in 1950s Australia. It also, in a way, relates directly to Iraq with its talk of imperialism and refugees. You should check that one out, too.

Ian said...

Just to second the comment about "Rabbit-Proof Fence" - a wonderful movie.

Vasta said...

As much as I loved both "The Quiet American" and "Catch A Fire," I must admit that "Rabbit-Proof Fence" was a much much better film.

What I did love most about Catch A Fire was just the immense amount of passion that Derek Luke was able to hold in his eyes throughout the film. Fantastic work by the young man.

Reel Fanatic said...

To all who commented on "Rabbit-Proof Fence," I have seen that flick, and it's one that I love ... I challenge anyone to find a director who put out two movies in one year better than "Rabbit-Proof Fence" and "The Quiet American"

P.S. ... Emma, I love your blog so much that I will accept your tag and try to respond to it tomorrow .. but I won't forward to it, simply because I fear tags are just a bit too much like chain letters

marina said...

We went to the theatres to see this yesterday but decided to skip it because it just looked too dark for our already dark mood. I look forward to squeezing it in on Thursday...especially after that excellent review.

Agreed on Swank's new film. What is she thinking?

Reel Fanatic said...

I definitely recommend you see this one soon, Marina .. Phillip Noyce is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors

Femigog said...

Ahh you dont know what it took for me not to read the spoiler but I didnt! I am now even more intrigued thanks to your review! I love movies, documentaries mostly but I am a serious moviephile and will surely check out some of your past posts and read you regularly!

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks, Femigog ... I'm glad you resisted that urge ... I marked it so strongly because, once you see the movie, you'll understand it gets right to the crux of Mr. Noyce's very important point