December 7, 2006 -- “Catch a Fire” is an inspirational story of a man caught up in the political turmoil which transformed a racially-divided nation ruled by the white minority into a nation ruled by the majority. The film is based on a true story. The man, Patrick Chamusso (played by Derek Luke of “Glory Road”), is transformed from a non-political industrial worker into a rebel saboteur when he and his family are abused by government police. His own transformation mirrors that of South Africa. It is a story of bigotry, hatred, rebellion, forgiveness and finally, healing.
Chamusso, a foreman at a large South African refinery in Secunda, is very well off compared to many of his fellow blacks. He has a good, well-paying job, a beautiful wife, Precious Chamusso (Bonnie Mbuli of “Drum,” or Bonnie Henna) and two children. Chamusso also has another child by another woman, a secret he keeps hidden from just about everyone. He sneaks off to visit this other child one night and it gets him into trouble because rebels damage the refinery in an attack that very same night. Chamusso is arrested. Because he is reluctant to explain where he was that night, his wife is apprehended and beaten until Chamusso confesses. Although he is released, the experience, particularly the abuse against his wife, transforms Chamusso into a rebel.
Chamusso travels to Mozambique where he joins the rebel forces of the African National Congress (ANC) at Maputo. He eventually persuades the ANC that he is just the man to lead a raid against the great refinery in Secunda (where coal is processed into petroleum), a refinery he knows well. He knows how to get into the facility and where to put the bomb. He devises a plan which will destroy the facility without loss of life. Meanwhile, Nick Vos (Tim Robbins of “War of the Worlds”) is trying to stop the planned sabotage, which he has learned of through his network of spies. Vos, a Colonel in South Africa's Police Security Branch, knows about Chamusso. He's the one who arrested Chamusso originally. He hopes that Chamusso will lead police to his ANC superiors in Secunda.
Vos, a very smart and slick character, has insinuated himself into Chamusso's family and hopes to turn family members against each other. The battle of wits between Chamusso and Vos comes to a dramatic conclusion at the Secunda refinery. The last part of the movie has to do with reconciliation, forgiveness and finding peace after South African's blacks finally finished their 80-year struggle for freedom. In the film, this is represented by one black man approaching a white man who had once abused him. The outcome of that confrontation is peaceful, as was the final confrontation between whites and blacks in South Africa. For years many people had expected mass slaughter in that final confrontation. That never happened. The transition from white rule to majority rule was surprisingly peaceful when it finally happened in 1994.
For years racists had warned that black people, which they supposed to be violent and morally inferior, would slaughter whites on a massive scale when given the chance. A scene in the film shows Vos teaching his whole family how to fire guns so they can protect themselves against the so-called “black menace.” That scene is reminiscent of similar scenes in this country. That racial component of this fear-based violence is explored in Michael Moore's entertaining, if unconvincing documentary Bowling for Columbine. There is a more peaceful message in ANC leader Nelson Mandela's plea and Chamusso's acceptance of the idea of forgiveness, rather than revenge. The latest war in Iraq was fought mainly for revenge, and look where that got us, more Americans dead in Iraq than were killed in the attacks of 9/11. What we did to ourselves after 9/11 was worse than what the suicide bombers did to us. If the blacks had opted for revenge in South Africa, the bloodshed would still be going on, just as it is in Iraq.
Whoa! I've just committed sociology! Shame on me. Back to the movie. I found it thought provoking. Just look at all the thoughts that spewed forth in the paragraph above. The acting was excellent by all involved. I especially like the accents by all the actors, like Derek Luke and Tim Robbins, who had to learn those accents, not that I'd know if the accents were accurate, but they sounded foreign. Some of the dialogue was in Afrikaans, the European-based language of some of the people in the film. Zulu was also spoken in the film (handy subtitles are included), but most of the film is in good old English for those of us who don't know any better. The film also has a lot of those ANC revolutionary songs in it. Songs were evidently a key factor in the revolution. There is also a very good non-revolutionary song in the film, the old disco-era hit “Hot Stuff,” performed at a wedding celebration. The story is a bit slow-moving in parts, but it also has some action and a lot of suspense. At the end of the movie we see some revealing footage of the real Patrick Chamusso and find out some unexpected things about his life in the years since the time depicted in the film. Oh, yeah, the title of the movie is from a Bob Marley song. This film rates a B.
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