Catch a Fire (2006) 




Director:     Phillip Noyce. 

Starring:     Tim Robbins (Nic Vos),  Derek Luke (Patrick Chamusso),  Bonnie Henna (Precious Chamusso),  Mncedisi Shabangu (Zuko September),  Tumisho Masha (Obadi),  Sithembiso Khumalo (Sixpence),  Terry Pheto (Miriam),  Michele Burgers ( Anna Vos),  Mpho Lovinga (Johnny Piliso),  Mxo (Pete My Baby),  Jessica Anstey (Katie Vos),  Charlotte Savage (Marie Vos),  Nomhl Nkyonyeni (Mama Dorothy),  Michael Mabizela (Shaven Head Bomber),  Eduan van Jaarsveldt (Special Branch Sergeant),  Robert Hobbs (Special Branch Lieutenant),  Onthatile Ramasodi (Lindiwe Chamusso),  Ziizi Mahlati (Albertina Chamusso),  Malcolm Purkey (Joe Slovo),  Robyn Slovo (Ruth First),  Bubu Mazibuko (Betsy),  Harriet Lenabe (ANC Swaziland Operative),  Susan Danford (White Madam). 

1980, South African wrongly accused of a crime, is tortured and becomes radicalized by his experience


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A black South African named Patrick Chamusso tells the audience about himself.  His father was from Mozambique and came to South Africa with the migrant workers to work the mines of the country.  Patrick himself started working at age 15. 

Northern coalfields, South Africa, 1980. 

Patrick's wife's name is Precious.  They have two young daughters.  Nearby lives his friend Zuko.  Patrick and his family travel to E. Transvaal to attend a wedding.  Patrick dances with a woman and Precious does not like it one bit.  She walks by him and hits him on the head. 

Nearby the wedding some "terrorists" or "freedom fighters", depending largely on the judge's skin color, plant some bombs to blow up the railway tracks.  Patrick goes outside to look for Precious.  They both hear a large explosion.  Driving back home the next day they come to a road block and check point.  The police demand that he give them his pass.  They find something they don't like and so shout:  "Everyone out!"  They want to know where a young fellow like him got the money for a nice car and a good camera.  They force Patrick to the ground.  Two blacks run from the police and they are shot in the back and killed.  The police finally let Patrick and his family go. 

The white Nic Vos is with the Security Branch, Anti-Terrorist Squad.  He spends most of his time at the Anti-Terrorist  Interrogation Center.  Speaking to one of the prisoners, Voss says:  "My job is to see to it that you are hanged!" 

Secunda Oil Refinery, Transvaal.  One of the black workers uses the whites only restroom.  A police officer catches him and calls the fellow a "cheeky Kaffir".  Patrick does an excellent job of placating the anger of the police officer, so he will leave the transgressor in the care of Patrick.  At home Patrick is the soccer coach for the Secunda Lions.  While playing a soccer game, a boy comes seemingly out of nowhere and drives the ball all the way to the opponent's goal and scores.  Patrick is very impressed with the young fellow.  His name is Sixpence and he is a nephew of Zuko.  Patrick tells Sixpence that he is on the team. 

At night grandmother listens to the African National Congress (ANC) on the radio.  Patrick scolds her:  "Do you want me to be arrested?"  Precious wants new furniture, especially since Patrick has been recently promoted to foreman. 

Nic Vos and his wife, along with their two daughters, practice shooting at a pistol range.  Katie, the older daughter, does not like firing a weapon.  She tells her father that she just cannot do it and leaves. 

Patrick is going on the road with the Secunda Lions.  Nic and his family go on a picnic.  His wife gets mad at Katie and tells her that she needs to know how to shoot in these perilous times.  She keeps on nagging her daughter until Nic says "enough".  Patrick's soccer team wins when Sixpence scores the winning goal.  The entire team and the coach are ecstatic.  He drops off the boys at their sleeping quarters.  He then goes to see another woman, Miriam.  Patrick sees both Miriam and her young boy.  Miriam asks him:  "Patrick, why don't you tell him who you are?"  Their son keeps asking her where's his dad.  Patrick replies that it is better that he doesn't know.  A terrific explosion occurs at the Secunda refinery. 

The next day at work, every worker is searched.  The blacks in the lines start chanting in their native language.  The police come to the black housing area and grab Zuko.  Then they arrest Patrick.  Johnny is the third man grabbed.  The police start their torture of Patrick by ducking his head under the water of a lake until he thinks he is drowning and then pulling him up.  They want to know if he is a member of the ANC and is he a communist.  At night he receives a bad beating.  The next door Nic sees Patrick and he asks his men:  "What have you done to him?"  He gives Patrick some water and tells his men to get a doctor for Patrick.  Zuko is let go.  Precious doesn't understand why they would let Zuko go but still keep Patrick and Johnny.  Zuko says that the police can hold the two men as long as they want. 

Nic interrogates Patrick.  Patrick says he has a doctor's excuse for the absence due to illness.  Nic tells him that they know that the doctor's note was forged: "You are lying!"  Patrick stayed an extra day with the Secunda Lions.  Nic goes to harass Precious.  He tells her that Patrick is a good man for being a coach to the soccer team and helping keep the kids off the streets.  He asks Precious where her husband went in the middle of the night. 

Nic tells Patrick that it is Sunday, a day of rest.  So he takes Patrick for a ride.  He tells Patrick that he knows that the system of Apartheid cannot last and that the whites are the underdogs in South Africa.  Nic takes Patrick to his house.  Patrick eats Sunday dinner with the Vos family and one of Nic's men.  But Sunday isn't completely a day of rest.  Nic asks Patrick:  "Where'd you go in the early morning hours?"  He suggests that Patrick drove to the plant.  After more questioning like this Patrick finally admits:  "There's another woman."  But, he insists, he loves his wife.  Nic tells him:  "You're lying.  Nice try, Patrick."   Back at the interrogation center Patrick sees the dead body of Johnny.  Nic says that Johnny had a weak heart. 

Patrick is blindfolded and thrown in an interrogation room.  He can sense another person in the room and searches the room.  It is his wife who is in the room.  She removes his blindfold and Patrick sees that she has been tortured too by the police.  Patrick sobs to her that he is sorry.  He then shouts out for Nic Vos.  He shouts that he will confess to the terrorist act for his wife's freedom. He then asks Nic what kind of man is he that would torture women. 

At the Security Branch Headquarters, Witbank, Nic tells the police that they should let Patrick go.  But his fellow police officers don't agree.  Nic asks:  "We lie to get a conviction?"  The others don't seem to care about this. 

Patrick and Precious come home.  Their girls are thrilled.  Patrick finally tells the truth to Precious.  He was with their next-door neighbor Miriam.  Patrick says:  "I promise I will make this right."  At night he sees grandmother listening to the ANC on the radio.  This time, however, Patrick does not scold her.  Instead he turns the volume up and listens along with grandmother. 

Maputo, Mozambique.  Patrick is being trained as a freedom fighter (or terrorist).  The white Joe Slovo is the head of the ANC.  Patrick wants revenge.  He tells the others that the authorities have killed hi friend and tortured his wife, for nothing!  Commander Obadi trains the recruits to kill Boers (i.e., the descendants of the first European settlers, the Dutch).  He asks the recruits:  "Are you ready to die?"  The recruits answer:  "Yes, Commander!"  This refrain is repeated a number of times. 

South African security has photos of the new recruits with their codenames such as Betsy and Pete My Baby.  They even have a picture of recruit Patrick.  Meanwhile, Precious loses her house.  No money is coming into the family.  Nic harasses her some some.  He wants Precious to tell him as soon as she hears from Patrick. 

At the training center in Mozambique a truck is allowed onto the grounds.  In the back are a number of white soldiers dressed in black face.  Once inside the compound the men jump out of the truck and start shooting anyone they see.  Betsy is one of those killed. Commander Obadi dies in Patrick's arms.  As a counterattack grows in force, the whites in black face leave.  Back in South Africa, Nic Vos and many other policemen are honored for their attack on the "terrorist" base.  The ANC holds a mass funeral for the killed.  Patrick tells Joe Slovo that he knows how the entire Secunda plant can be blow up.  Slovo is very interested. 

Patrick says there were 40,000 of us in Angola.  His particular code name was Hot Stuff because Slovo had said that his plan to destroy Secunda was hot stuff. 

Mbabane, Swaziland.  Patrick learns how to set time bombs.  A woman named Totsie insists that no one must die.  She tells Patrick that his name will now be James Mabuso.  He is to go back to Secunda.  There he is warned to stay away from his wife and family.  Patrick goes to the South African border as a businessman.  The police are already on to him.  They let him have 14 days in South Africa.  The police place a transmitter on Patrick's car.  Nic and his men follow his car.  Then all of a sudden Patrick stops the car.  The police rush to the car, but Patrick has fled.  He got into one of many vans and cars waiting there.  Everyone takes off at the same time when the police arrive and they can't find the right car/van. 

The decision is made to put the army on the fences of Secunda.  The whole place is too vulnerable to terrorism.

Patrick whistles for his old buddy Zuko.  Zuko tells Patrick that his family is now on Fifth Street.  The company took their old house. 

Nic goes through the job repair reports looking for clues.  Patrick rents a miserable little room in an isolated area.  Nic has to rush home.  When he gets out of the car he finds the "terrorist" Pete My Baby dead on the floor of his house.  Kate shot the man dead.  She cries and asks:  "Who was he dad?" 

Precious works for a white woman now.  The employer gives her a letter left for her and tells Precious that she doesn't want any trouble.  Inside the envelope are a number of photos of Patrick with Totsie implying that her husband is having an affair with Totsie.  Precious is steaming mad. 

Zuko is taken into custody along with his nephew Sixpence.  They force Sixpence to watch as his uncle is badly beaten. 

Patrick straps bombs on his body.  Nic raids Patrick's place, but finds him gone.  Patrick has gone underground heading down a shaft to the Secunda oil refinery.  Nic calls ahead telling the Secunda police that Patrick is coming out at mine shaft number three.  The police station themselves by the shaft and wait for Patrick to make an appearance.  A huge explosion goes off at Secunda.  The fire ball is immense.  The order is given to "Clear the plant!"    The employees run out of the factory as fast as they can.  Nic runs as fast as he can searching the area for Patrick.  Patrick plants a bomb.  Shortly afterwards, Nic finds the bomb.  Trying to get away Patrick crashes his car at a road block.  He gets out and runs for it while the police fire at him.  Patrick goes to see Miriam.  He is wounded in the leg.  Nic defuses the bomb. 

Nic gets a big break.  The very jealous and vengeful Precious has come to talk with Nic about where Patrick is.  At Miriam's place, Patrick hears a helicopter coming closer and closer.  A lot of police cars come roaring up to the little house of Miriam.  Patrick tries to make a run for it, but the helicopter constantly keeps him under its spotlight.  Patrick gives up.  They make him strip.  Precious watches as Patrick takes off his clothes.  The police then take him into custody.

Nic tells Patrick that they will probably hang him.  Patrick says he has nothing to lose anymore. 

After that day Zuko and Sixpence were never seen again.  Patrick was sentenced to 24 years in prison on Robben Island.   Patrick says that there were 1,000 of us on the island.   The famous black leader Nelson Mandela was there in the prison.  Patrick says that Mandela told them that we will never be free if we do not forgive.  Precious remarried.  It took Patrick five years to accept that fact and five more to forgive her. 

December 1991 was the end of Apartheid.  Now they could go home again, back to Africa.  Patrick arrives to a cheering crowd.  He is greeted by Precious who tells him about his girls.  They are doing fine.  She then says:  "Patrick, I'm sorry.  I'm sorry."  Patrick replies:  "Yeah, me too.  I'm sorry." 

Patrick says he tried to start again, but the pain kept coming back to him.  He kept imagining that he saw Nic Vos, that "monster".  He often heard a voice inside him saying to kill Nic Vos.  But he finally realized that killing Nic Vos would not help him.  He says: "Let me let him live free and then I will be free."  Because of this:  "I am free!"

As of 2006 Patrick lives in northeast South Africa with his new wife and three children and the 80 orphans they have taken into their care. 

The movie is dedicated to Joe Slovo, 1926-1995. 


Good movie.  A little tough to watch at time with its frequent cruelty and torture of black South Africans by white South Africans.  But I know enough now about South Africa after seeing so many films dealing with Apartheid that I was better prepared psychologically to handle it.  My wife liked the moviet too.  Tim Robbins as Nic Vos was good as the soft-spoken, smooth monster who was just doing his duty you know.    Derek Luke as Patrick Chamusso was also very good.  For those who like action, there is quite a bit of it in the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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