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Laramie Movie Scope:
Night Catches Us

Emotional baggage from Black Panther days

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 16, 2010 -- This is a story about a part of American History many people are unfamiliar with, the rise of black pride, Malcolm X and the Black Panther movement in particular. While the nation's eyes were focused on Martin Luther King and the other leaders of the civil rights movement, other forces were at work, and some of them were militant. “Night Catches Us” isn't set in that period of time. It is set about 10 years later, in 1976. It represents an echo of that earlier period and flashes of memories from that time.

A ghost from the past appears for a family funeral. Marcus Washington (played by Anthony Mackie of “The Hurt Locker”) who has not been seen in Philadelphia for years, shows up for his father's funeral, and is shunned by everyone except for his sister in law, Patricia Wilson (Kerry Washington of “The Last King of Scotland”) and her daughter, Iris (Jamara Griffin). He is tossed out of the family home, which has already been sold, by his brother, Bostic (Tariq Trotter) and ends up staying with Patricia. He is shunned by everyone else because he is considered an informer. He says he is the one who gave up his brother, Patricia's husband, to police for the murder of a police officer, a murder in retaliation for the police killing of two Black Panthers. Police then killed his Black Panther brother, nearly 10 years ago.

That is the official story, anyway. But Marcus doesn't carry himself like an informer. He doesn't seem to be carrying any guilt on his shoulders. Something more is going on. There is also something between Marcus, Patricia and Iris that would not make sense if he was really the man that people think he is. Patricia, a lawyer and community activist with great influence in the neighborhood, uses that influence to prevent retaliation against Marcus. She clearly has feelings for him. At the same time, Marcus would like to stay, but there are forces moving against him, ghosts from the past that won't give him peace in this community. It holds too many bad memories. A black police detective, David Gordon (Wendell Pierce of “I Think I Love My Wife”) is also applying pressure to Marcus because he knows a secret from the past that few others know.

There is also an ugly incident in the neighborhood. A white police officer is shot and killed. The black youth who did it is, in turn, shot and killed by police. It is yet another echo from the past when it was open war between the Black Panthers and police. The racial divide in the neighborhood seems to be as deep as ever, especially between black youths and white police. Marcus would like to stay with Patricia, but the past keeps coming back to haunt them. The acting is convincing by everyone. The story jumps back and forth in time, making it a bit hard to tell at times if it is 1966 or 1976, but the story has some real dramatic power. This is just another reminder there is a whole pool of acting talent in America, almost a whole film industry, that white audiences are largely unaware of. This is also a reminder that the Black Panthers were more than just a bunch of tough-looking guys. They also fed the hungry and did a lot of other constructive community projects. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2010 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)