Catch a Fire and The Anderson Platoon

Catch a Fire and The Anderson Platoon

While many might associate Australian director Phillip Noyce with such political fare as Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American, one shouldn’t forget that he’s also the hand behind Dead Calm, A Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games.

The man knows how to shape and pace a thriller. Catch a Fire, Noyce’s portrait of apolitical refinery worker turned African National Congress “terrorist” Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) and the Boer security agent who hounds him (Tim Robbins), is taut and exhilarating throughout. Chamusso’s psychic journey is relentlessly intriguing, but it’s nearly eclipsed by that of Robbins’ character, a man who knows apartheid is a loser’s game and who spends the majority of the film on the knife-edge of conscience. Buoyed by a rousing soundtrack of township music and ANC revolutionary songs, Catch a Fire is that rare film that makes you think deeply˜without realizing you’re doing so. To what extent, it asks, does obsessive security create what it aims to snuff out? Never willing to resort to simplistic moral judgements or easy answers, Catch a Fire has a lot to say to about the almost-forgotten horrors of apartheid. Oscar nominations for Noyce, Luke, Robbins and Bonnie Henna—who plays Chamusso’s wife Precious—are virtually assured.

Catch A Fire is now playing at the Cumberland (159 Cumberland St.), the Paramount (259 Richmond St. W.), Rainbow Market Square (80 Front St. E.) and others

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On Wednesday, the Cinematheque is showing Pierre Schmoendoerffer’s 1967 Oscar-winning doc, The Anderson Platoon. More influential than it is stirring, The Anderson Platoon is most interesting when compared to this year’s The War Tapes, Deborah Scranton’s superb and wrenching doc, which placed digital video cameras in the hands of National Guard members while they served in Iraq. A former Life war correspondent and Dien Bien Phu veteran, Schmoendoerffer’s connection to the platoon he follows is actually more interesting than the footage he secures. While it must have been very powerful when first released, The Anderson Platoon just can’t compete with the images and stories we’ve since accumulated about the ill-fated war in Indochina. Furthermore, afterThe War Tapes, the bar for conflict documentaries has been raised too high for anything but the most intimate of portraits to achieve maximum impact.

The Anderson Platoon screens at Cinematheque Ontario on November 1 at 8:15pm.