Catch A Fire
The Liberals are coming! The Liberals are coming!

Golden Mug

Supporting Actor (Tim Robbins)
Original Screenplay (Shawn Slovo)

Actor (Derek Luke)

Theatrical Release Date: 10/27/2006
Director: Phillip Noyce
Cast: Derek Luke, Bonnie Henna & Tim Robbins

There are often actors who enter the national consciousness via a debut performance in a good film and then they simply fizzle out picking poorer and poorer films or shifting their focus entirely.

Off the top of my head, take Erika Christensen in “Traffic”, Diego Luna in “Y Tu Mama Tambien” or Keisha Castle-Hughes in “Whale Rider”.

They’re all good films and each provided a quality performance.

But now Christensen is co-starring in the soon to be cancelled TV drama “Six Degrees”, Luna last starring role was in 2004’s forgettable “Criminal” and Castle-Hughes is now the ripe age of 16 and expecting her first child.

I had relegated Derek Luke to the same fate not long after his promising debut in “Antwone Fisher”. After that, all I really recall him doing is “Biker Boyz”. Now there’s an Oscar contender (though actually I love the movie for being so damn awful).

However, Luke has gone and done a project with loads of ambition and might just pull through yet.

“Catch a Fire” is set in South Africa in the early 1980s. At that time, the Apartheid system was still en vogue and three million whites controlled 25 million blacks through a system of oppression and racism.

In the film, Luke plays a young foreman at a power plant. Unlike many of his peers, he is not quite so interested in being a revolutionary / freedom fighter / terrorist (terms depend on point of view and the winner).

He has a beautiful wife and daughters and a good job. All he wants to do is enjoy what he can, given his circumstances and the political climate.

However, an attack on the power plant by the African National Congress prompts the South African anti-terrorist unit (headed by Robbins) to look for the perpetrators.

They wrongfully accuse and interrogate Luke, using brutal tactics which I doubt are supported by the Geneva convention and are eerie to watch in this hyper-vigilant time we are all living in.

As a result, Luke sees that he can no longer sit idly by on the sideline and becomes committed to helping the cause to free South Africa and end Apartheid.

The film is powerful and thought provoking, made all the more so because it is based on a true story and Luke is portraying a real person, who was involved with the making of the motion picture.

Having done a similarly themed film in “Rabbit Proof Fence”, director Phillip Noyce took the reins on this project. While “Fence” is an absolute must see, “Catch a Fire” is not quite that spectacular but it’s very, very good and what I would term a “really should see”.

Noyce used his talents to capture the environment perfectly; from location to the accents and use of local language, you really feel like you are in South Africa in 1980. That most of the actors aside from the leads are native South Africans can’t hurt either.

Luke’s performance is gripping and reminiscent or maybe even better than that of Denzel Washington as Steven Biko in “Cry Freedom”. Also a film about Apartheid-era South Africa, it’s probably a coincidence that Luke tackles this subject after working on-screen with Denzel in “Antwone Fisher”. Still, I find it poetic.

On his end, Robbins is up to the task of matching Luke’s intensity and while I go up and down on my opinion of his work, “Catch a Fire” is clearly one of his better performances.

Overall, the film is near perfect, only losing its focus and power at the end as I thought it meandered a bit and could have been tighter. As such, it is just barely missed out on a 5 out of 5 … but not by much.

I’m giving “Catch a Fire” a strong 4 out of 5. I could easily see acting nominations coming from this one, if the awards system was about merit.

More likely, look for this in the 2006 Golden Mugs and in the meantime, go out and see this film. Anyone who liked politically charged films will find a lot to like in this one and fans of quality cinema will like it regardless of its political and social commentary.