- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

Patrick Chamusso is a good terrorist. Really.

The South African transforms from family man into anti-government agitator in Phillip Noyce’s rich new thriller.

Based on the real Patrick Chamusso’s life, “Catch a Fire” recalls the men who helped push the South Africa’s apartheid system to its breaking point. These terrorists are gunning for their government, not innocents. Viewers may expect echoes of the current torture debates along the way, but Mr. Noyce and company take pains to keep events rooted in the recent past.

All the better for star Derek Luke, whose impassioned work as Patrick will surely open eyes, if not moisten them.

Patrick lives a humble life as an oil refinery foreman along with his wife, Precious (Bonnie Henna), and their children. Their tranquillity ends when government forces led by Security Branch Col. Nic Vos (Tim Robbins) accuse him of triggering a terrorist bombing at his plant.

The government assumes he knows something. He had access to the plant and some of his initial answers contradict each other. That’s enough for Nic’s henchmen to start torturing first Patrick, and then Precious, for information. Patrick harbors a secret that makes his answers suspicious, but he wasn’t involved in the attack.

The torture radicalizes Patrick into the arms of the African National Congress, a guerrilla group looking to overthrow apartheid by the proverbial any means necessary. That it means cashing communist checks doesn’t give them pause, a point thinly explored in the movie.

Still, the greater good was to overthrow the system, and it’s here where “Fire” displays psychological depth and subtlety. As Nic, Mr. Robbins is every bit the family man, spending quality time with his brood and treating Patrick with as much respect as his barbarous system will permit.

Patrick’s torture, in turn, is as much emotional as physical as he gets tangled up in lies that deepen the government’s suspicion of him.

When the two characters share an emotional meal together, along with Nic’s picture-perfect family, “Catch a Fire” ignites.

The set pieces that follow, including a second assault on the refinery, are technically just as good. Mr. Noyce is an old pro at the thriller game (see, for example, his underrated “The Saint”), but his recent films have let him fuse action with geopolitical realities. It’s a welcome professional evolution.

Much like “V for Vendetta,” “Fire” paints its terrorist as proud, idealistic and wary of hurting civilians. But Patrick’s story is more freedom fighter than anarchist, a point persistently argued in this smart thriller.

***

TITLE: “Catch a Fire”

RATING: PG-13 (Mature themes including torture and abuse, violence and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Phillip Noyce. Written by Shawn Slovo. Original music by Philip Miller.

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.catchafire

movie.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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