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Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), works diligently at the Secunda refinery in South Africa, caring for his wife Precious (Bonnie Mbuli) and two daughters. When arrested one day on suspicion of being a member of the African National Congress and involved in an act of sabotage against the refinery, he is jailed and tortured under orders from security officer Nic Vos (Tim Robbins). Eventually released and radicalized by his treatment, he slips into Mozambique to train with the ANC and with his intimate knowledge of the refinery, helps plan another attack, avoiding casualties but damaging the plant. It is not entirely successful and Patrick is captured. He is tried and sentenced to 24 years in prison and sent to Robben Island.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Written by the daughter of leading anti-Apartheid whites, Joe Slovo and his wife Ruth, the screenplay has given Phillip Noyce the opportunity to draw together political and personal elements in a story of great resonance. It is the factual basis of the story that alters the dynamics of how this film plays to audiences; the radicalisation of the central character, Patrick (Derek Luke), in the context of Apartheid-era South Africa, and the final resolution of the story, are elements that have direct relevance to the world today.

The screenplay emphasises that the ANC campaign of sabotage was guided by a determination to avoid hurting civilians. Whether this was always successful or indeed adhered to is questionable, no doubt, but the intent does mark out a clear differentiation between those we call terrorists today, and the likes of Patrick Chamusso fighting against tangible and brutal political and economic oppression.

In filmic terms, this editorial slant gives us the comfort to sympathise with Patrick as a political activist, while Derek Luke makes him a likeable character trying to do the right thing - first by his family, second by the son from a former liaison, and third, by his people. The relationships that are torn asunder become a part of the price he pays for his decisions, but they also become the currency with which he buys our empathy.

In filmmaking terms, Catch A Fire is aptly pragmatic, with none of the Hollywood bullshit that might otherwise spoil its tone of sincere story telling. Told with dramatic flair, we are always engaged, and the entire cast is superb, although Tim Robbins never seems quite sure if he wants us to dislike him as much as his character might warrant. Perhaps this is just a matter of making him human ... Which in the final moments of the film counts for much, and is the really important message of Patrick's experiences.

Review by Louise Keller:
The political thread that weaves its way through director Phillip Noyce's illustrious film career has never been restricted by borders or geography. Like the 80s mini series Cowra Break Out and The Dismissal, his multi-awarded Rabbit Proof Fence takes a penetrating look at issues that may be specifically Australian, but have international relevance. Likewise, The Quiet American has a thrust intersecting the political climate of America, Britain and Vietnam. The passion and intensity of Noyce's work is like a crescendo that reverberates as it continues to swell.

His latest film, Catch a Fire, set in the throes of racial conflict in 80s Apartheid South Africa, is dense, complex and potent. With throbbing traditional African music, the spark of the film's sentiments as an ordinary man is motivated to be proactive standing up for right, burns like a flame. Despite the film's highly charged politics about the phenomenon of Apartheid's steamrollering by the ANC, the heart of this true story is about its humanity. Political freedom and having a conscience are the themes of Patrick Chamusso's story, when he elects to leave his wife, children and life to try to make a difference.

Set in South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland, we can almost smell the dust from the barren land. Local black kids joyfully kick a soccer ball around, while by contrast, the families of the Police spend leisure time practise shooting at targets. We instantly connect with Derek Luke's Chamusso, and are repulsed by the heartlessness and cruelty of Tim Robbins' Colonel Nic Vos. Bonnie Henna as Chamusso's wife Precious is especially appealing. South African accents are excellent, as are all the performances, while the tension is almost suffocating in the lead up to the climactic scenes in the Secunda refinery, when there is no turning back. As the title implies, idealism is infectious.

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(US, 2006)

CAST: Tim Robbins, Derek Luke, Bonnie Mbuli, Mncedisi Shabangu, Sithembiso Khumalo, Terry Pheto, Michele Burgers, Mxo, Johnny Piliso, Jessica Anstey, Charlotte Savage, Nomhle Nkonyeni

PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Anthony Minghella, Robyn Slovo

DIRECTOR: Phillip Noyce

SCRIPT: Shawn Slovo

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ron Fortunato, Garry Phillips

EDITOR: Jill Bilcock

MUSIC: Philip Miller


RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 23, 2006

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