Catch a Fire
By Jane Boursaw,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Gritty apartheid drama pushes PG-13 limits.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Characters arrest and torture innocent people, break and enter, plant bombs, and are taught how to fight and use weapons. But characters also stand up for what's right -- at the risk of losing their lives and endangering their families.
Violence & Scariness
Guns and shooting throughout; people are tortured and imprisoned; car crashes; bombs and explosions; imprisoned women at risk of being raped.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Romance between a husband and wife (and a scene of them together in bed), implied romance between a man and his mistress.
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"Damn," "hell," "f--k."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this complicated tale of political terrorism is intense and worthwhile viewing -- but it must have just barely escaped getting an R rating. Scenes of peril include characters being arrested, imprisoned, tortured, blindfolded, held under water, and torn from their families. There are guns and fighting throughout, as well as acts of terrorism that involve explosions, breaking and entering, and bombs being planted. Innocent people fear for their lives, and many die.
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
Set during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa in the 1980s, CATCH A FIRE tells the story of Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), a black foreman at a white-owned oil refinery near Johannesburg. He has a good job, a beautiful wife named Precious (Bonnie Henna), and two small girls. South Africa is ruled by fear and government-enforced apartheid (rigid segregation), and the only way to instigate change, according to some activists, is with guerrilla warfare and terrorism. That's just what happens at the refinery. When an explosion rips through the facility, Chamusso is arrested, tortured, and held in a shabby, makeshift jail by men supervised by Col. Nic Vos (Tim Robbins). Vos is an officer in the Police Security Branch charged with identifying and arresting members of the African National Congress (ANC), whose goal is to rid South Africa of apartheid. Chamusso is innocent, but his alibi doesn't hold up. He refuses to confess, but when Precious is arrested, he accepts responsibility for the bombing. Chamusso and Precious are released, and he joins the ANC and sneaks across the border into Mozambique to train and eventually help stop the brutal government.
Is It Any Good?
Though the subject matter of Catch a Fire is heavy, this movie does a wonderful job of explaining a complicated situation, told through the eyes of a real-life hero who helped change history. Luke gives a heart-wrenching, Oscar-worthy performance; when he says, "I will make this right," you believe him. You can feel his passion, as well as that of the other members of the ANC who feel they have no other choice but to fight.
The other actors -- including Robbins, Henna, and Michele Burgers as Vos' wife – also deliver emotional performances, showing the many grey areas that exist between "right" and "wrong." The movie is vibrant with the sights, sounds, and people of Africa. The freedom songs that the natives sing to console themselves are beautiful, as is the Bob Marley reggae music that was popular at that time (and for which the film is named).
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the fact that "right" and "wrong" can often be very complicated concepts. People are sometimes forced to do things they don't want to do for the greater good of their community. Is it right for Chamusso to leave his family to go and fight for freedom, potentially putting all of their lives at risk? Is Nic Vos an evil person who tortures others, or is he doing what's needed to keep his family safe and preserve the government of his country? How did Chamusso's actions change the course of history in South Africa? How far should you go to stand up for what's right?
- In theaters: October 26, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: January 30, 2007
- Cast: Bonnie Henna, Derek Luke, Tim Robbins
- Director: Phillip Noyce
- Inclusion Information: Black actors
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material involving torture and abuse, violence and brief language.
- Last updated: February 26, 2023
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