Night Catches Us

9 Dec

Title: Night Catches Us
Year:
2010
Director:
Tanya Hamilton
Writer:
Tanya Hamilton
Starring:
Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Novella Nelson, Thomas Roy, Ron Simons
MPAA Rating:
R, language, some sexuality and violence
Runtime:
90 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
6.0
Rotten Tomatoes:
79%

 

Night Catches Us is a very solid little debut film from writer-director Tanya Hamilton, a film that touches upon a subject matter that conventional films usually stay away from, but that explores it really nicely because it never once voices its opinions too loudly, but rather just lets their characters be in the historical context they’re in, and by that it gives this film some really strong emotional depth which is anchored by some fine direction and performances, and has you thinking that if the script had been as strong the result would have been far more memorable.

But nevermind that the script isn’t all that great, because what Ms. Hamilton lacks in that department she more than makes up with her directorial skills, this film is always super sensible and composed, a hand that was definitely needed to handle such sensitive material. Because the subject matter on display in Night Catches Us is indeed sensitive, the Black Panther movement is closely related to horrible violence that will still resonate to many people who lived during those years. But Ms. Hamilton instead of dealing with this in a broader sense decides to explore it in a more intimate and human story that she tells with admirable poise.

And that’s why Night Catches Us works, because the film is never loud about what it wants to transmit, it takes its time, never forcing anything upon us, but rather just letting it all simmer and have its effect in that manner, and with the story she tells that’s most certainly achieved. And that’s because her lead performers are just terrific.

Anthony Mackie is Marcus, a former militant who comes back home in Philadelphia in the mid-seventies. Now, for those who don’t know, Mr. Mackie is a man who’s usually stellar in supporting turns in films like last year’s The Hurt Locker and Notorious, as well as the amazing Half Nelson. In this one he plays lead, much like he did in 2004’s Brother to Brother, his breakthrough performance, and he once again makes the most of it.

Marcus comes home, then, to a quiet neighborhood, his father just having died and his brother trying to sell their big family home. And so Marcus faces the conflicts with his brother as he also faces his past, marked by a police shootout that killed a friend of his and by his relationship with his ex-wife, played by a very good Kerry Washington, all the while having to deal with his former Black Panther comrades, who suspect him of having been a snitch.

So yes, there’s definitely a lot of stuff going on in Night Catches Us, but it never once feels over-packed, it deals with everything in the sharpest and smartest of ways, and Mr. Mackie and Ms. Washington do a great job at conveying the complexities of their characters without once stepping on melodramatic ground, it is them that make this film as good as it ultimately is, even when the script doesn’t give them much to work with, which happens a couple of times here, they are still giving it their all and making this one good.

I loved how this film approached its subject matter, always sure footed in its viewing of their historical environment, it uses an intimate story to tell a much broader tale, and one that, even though it’s amazing to see it set in the time it’s set, still resonates in any era. Just a film that’s very good in their approach of the politics in its story, there is anger deeply embedded in the circumstances it deals with, but it never once shows it, its greatness is in its assured pace, somber tone and rock solid performances, and because of that it succeeds.

Grade: B

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