Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Catch a Fire


Based on the true story of Patrick Chamusso. He was from Mozambique and came to South Africa and got a job in a coal liquefaction plant. Some years later he was arrested, interrogated, and tortured as a suspect in a bombing at the plant. He maintains he didn’t do it, but ironically, he was so enraged by his treatment that he went back home and joined the ANC. He trained as a soldier, and later returned to the plant and set off a bomb. (No one was killed, which was the intention.) They caught him and sentenced him to twenty-four years at the infamous Robben Island, where Mandela served his time. After ten years, he was released under the amnesty program.

Tim Robbins is a relentless member of the Special Branch. He will stoop to anything to catch someone, and doesn’t flinch at torturing innocent people. As shown here, he is the only one who believes Chamusso didn’t do the original bombing (who’s to say, in a biopic, if this was really the case?), but that earns Chamusso no points when he comes after him later. If he’s aware of the irony of having created a terrorist—which Chamusso was, though I would have been solidly behind him—he never shows it. It’s all nicely done, and horrifying, as we see just how awful things were back then. I hate to be hardened to all this, but I guess I am, just a little bit. We’ve seen it before, and seen it done better.