Phillip Noyce is probably one of my favorite under-appreciated directors working today. He has an impressive resume with directing films like Patriot Games, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Dead Calm, The Bone Collector, and The Quiet American.
With Rabbit-Proof Fence, Noyce began a trilogy of films that explores oppression in three different corners of the globe. In Fence, he explored the Australian Aboriginal. In The Quiet American, he explored the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War. And finally, he explores apartheid in South Africa with Catch a Fire.
Of this trilogy of films, Catch a Fire is definitely the weakest of the three.
The film follows the struggle of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), who does all he can to stay out of the conflict that is ravaging his country. Patrick works at one of the largest oil refineries in South Africa which is also the target of rebelling terrorists. But like all looming conflicts, Patrick is pulled in kicking and screaming as he is accused of being a terrorist by a government interrogator, Nic Vos (Tim Robbins).
After he is eventually released, Patrick struggles with the devotion to stay out of his country's turmoil and decides to leave his family and do something about it. Patrick journeys to Mozambique to join the resistance and free South Africa from oppression.
The film is based on the true life story of Patrick Chamusso and it is an epic one. When it comes to films about apartheid, it is hard to forget the films that have come before it, like the classic Cry Freedom from 1987.
The film's story is an unrelenting journey and has solid direction from Phillip Noyce. You also have a very interesting, demanding, and poignant performance from Derek Luke as the film's central hero.
But then there is the performance from Tim Robbins. I don't care what anyone else says, Tim Robbins doesn't have any range as an actor. Still, his best performance to date is 1992's The Player.
I know he won an Oscar in 2003 for Mystic River and has done other credible performances in such films as Jacob's Ladder and The Shawshank Redemption. But what a lot of people seem to forget is the disastrous performances he turned out in films like AntiTrust, Mission to Mars, and Nothing to Lose.
I think his Oscar win in 2003 had a lot more to do with Eastwood's direction than the performance of Robbins. I guess as I look back on that performance, I never felt even then that Robbins could dig deep enough to become the character he is trying to play.
In Catch a Fire, Robbins's character of Nic Vos is supposed to be this narcissistic, sociopathic interrogator who has two distinct sides to his personality as interrogator and family man. He is described as "this beast of a man" by Chamusso's character, but we never really feel any intensity or psychosis from the man. The character should have almost been a sort of Jekyll and Hyde type. Because of this lack of understanding and performance of the film's central villain, the film suffers immensely. Instead, all we get is Robbins trying to look intense, but I swear all I see in the man's eyes is fear that he is living some other man's career. I think Robbins should stick to directing.
Catch a Fire as a whole is a forgettable film and it really is a shame. (2 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.