Dir: Phillip Noyce. UK-S Afr-US. 2006. 98mins

The desperate struggles against the apartheid regimein South Africa have inspired a distinguished body of cinema that stretches from Cry Freedom (1987) to Red Dust (2004). Phillip Noyce's Catch A Fire tells of Patrick Chamussoand his journey from acquiescent model citizen to radicalisedfreedom fighter with the African National Congress (ANC). While based on a truestory and recounted with heartfelt conviction, there is no escaping the factthat it is dealing with some very familiar material and generally fails toinvest it with fresh insight or dramatic intensity. Audiences might be inclinedto regard it is as worthy rather than essential viewing which suggests anuphill commercial battle for a respectable piece of work.

Written by Shawn Slovo (A World Apart)and dedicated to her late father, the ANC leader Joe Slovo,Catch A Fireexplores the tangled relationships between personal loyalty and politicalcommitment in the South Africa of the 1980s.

A charismatic Derek Lukeplays Chamusso as a man determined to avoid politics.A loyal worker at a key refinery, his focus is on professional advancement,financial stability and the welfare of his jealous wife Precious (Bonnie Henna)and their two daughters.

Absent on the day of anattack on the refinery, he is arrested and questioned by anti-terrorism ColonelNic Vos (Tim Robbins). WhenPrecious is also arrested and tortured, it is a defining moment that promptsPatrick to join the ANC and play his part in the struggle for a free South Africa.

Rooted in the domesticdetail of everyday lives, Catch A Fire does have some telling moments as we witness Vos encouraging his young daughters to improve theirshooting skills at a firing range or Chamusso subjectto the routine indignities at a road checkpoint as his family returns from awedding. The story works hard to achieve a sense of balance and restraint.

Played by a steely, twitchyTim Robbins, Vos is not portrayed as a completemonster; there is also contradiction and compassion in his nature. Chamusso is no saint and it is his guilty secrets and pastindiscretions that are the architects of his ultimate fate.

Tense and exciting when itmomentarily moves into manhunt thriller mode, Catch A Fire eventually overcomes some rather mundane patches tobuild into an absorbing enough story that ends with a plea for forgivenessrather than a call for revenge.

Phillip Noycecloses with contemporary footage of the real Patrick Chamusso:he is an engaging enough character to make you wonder whether his life mighthave been better served with a documentary.

Production companies/backers
Working Title Films
Mirage Enterprises
Scion Films Premier (First) Limited Partnership
Focus Features

US distribution
Focus Features

Executive producers
Sydney Pollack
Debra Hayward
Liza Chasin

Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Anthony Minghella
Robin Slovo

Shawn Slovo

Ron Fortunato
Garry Phillips

Jill Bilcock

Production design
Johnny Breedt

Philip Miller

Main cast
Tim Robbins
Derek Luke
Bonnie Henna
Mncedisi Shabangu
Tumisho K Masha
Sithembiso Khumalo
Terry Pheto
Michele Burgers