It is evident that Phillip Noyce has not analysed the processes of apartheid with the same refinement that Tim Robbins has examined his character. Robbins is unsurprisingly brilliant, from his perfectly paced intensity to his Afrikaans accent. But the insistence of using white men from America to pull audiences when this country has world-class talent is shameful.
As for Noyce’s handling of South African actors, there’s the distinct feeling that they are over directed. The lead lady and man only really get to have an honest moment to shine at the end, when it’s already too late. Both for their characters, and for the viewer.
Starting out as self-consciously slow-paced and superficial soap opera in the first half, the film only scratches the surface of the brutal realities faced by apartheid’s subjects and does neither the truth nor the tale any justice. Thankfully, Noyce’s professionalism prevails as things hot up to the climax, which is admittedly as gripping and tear jerking as any well crafted formula film, so you can at least expect to be adequately entertained by the efforts.
In its defence, Catch a Fire redeems itself a little at the end with a documentary-like postscript. Moving from fiction to fact, the real Patrick Chamusso meets the lead actor (Derek Luke), and they kick a soccer ball around in mutual appreciation of hard-won liberation. This doubling-up reveals more about Chamusso’s character in a few minutes than the tight directing let through the whole feature.
If Sting is right about history repeating itself, then we’d better try harder. It’s not too late to get over ourselves; so block your ears when the Die Stem resounds, and let’s tell it like it really is.
- Jess Henson
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