Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dealing with a radical past

Night Catches Us poses a difficult question: How to move on when the past hasn't been fully digested.
Tanya Hamilton's Night Catches Us tries to (and in some measure succeeds) show how powerful events in the past echo in the present. Most of what transpires in Hamilton's film -- set during the mid 1970s -- has its origins during the turbulent '60s when the Black Panthers were establishing themselves as a force in Philadelphia and in other cities. * The story begins when Marcus Washington (Anthony Mackie of Hurt Locker) returns to Philadelphia for his father's funeral. Marcus soon re-establishes a relationship with Patricia Wilson (Kerry Washington), a woman he knew when both belonged to the Black Panther party, an affiliation that led to Wilson's husband being killed by the police and that put Marcus in prison. * Patricia, who's raising her daughter, shares an obvious connection with Marcus, who is scorned by some of his former Panther colleagues. They think he's a snitch. * The supporting cast includes Wendell Pierce (familiar from HBO's Treme) as a bullying Philadelphia detective and Amari Cheatom, as Patricia's cousin, a young man who wants to emulate the radical actions of the '60s. * Both Mackie and Washington are memorable in roles that minimize pyrotechnics. * I thought Night Catches Us could have packed more of a wallop, but it goes a long way toward capturing the struggles of people who probably will spend the rest of their lives trying to deal with the secrets and contradictions of a volatile past -- and perhaps never entirely succeeding.

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