Catch a Fire, directed by Philip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American) is an effective and competent biopic about the violent resistance against South Africa's apartheid regime. Derek Luke plays Patrick Chamusso, a refinery worker and family man turned freedom fighter after he is tortured by a vicious guardian of apartheid (Tim Robbins.) The tragic pull of the story is hard to resist; the film's grip tightens expertly from early scenes in which Patrick and his wife Precious (Bonnie Henna) dance around the house to Bob Marley while their adorable girls study math and grandma grumbles in the corner--its obvious that none of it can last.
After his encounter with Nic Vos, played by a deliciously villainous Tim Robbins, Patrick becomes radicalized and visits ANC training camps in Mozambique, where he becomes what the white people in the movie call a terrorist. There are action-laden military raids and bombings, betrayal, soul searching, and finally some much-delayed redemption. The films manipulations all work like they shouldits hard not to get choked up at the final scenes, which then turn into a documentary coda showing the real-life Chamusso.
All that said, Catch a Fire comes up short compared to the more ambitious Paradise Now, which raised the bar on showing the inner struggles of men who confuse caring for their families with setting bombs. It would also have been interesting if the movie could have found a way to acknowledged that it presents us with a reversal of current attitudes about terrorists/freedom fighters; how come we're suddenly rooting for the man with the explosives? Robbins character displays a modicum of complexity, but not enough to allow us to see ourselves in him.