it may not show on the site but we do try to have themes with our posts, between related theatrical releases, dvd releases, birthdays, special days/months…etc. i first noticed night catches us during the january 2010 movies theme, turns out it also fits both of our february themes of valentine’s day/love story and black history month. i think i’ll call it tri-winning.
it may or may not be true, but one of my college writing professors mentioned that one of the oldest plot devices in literature is a guy going back to his hometown or a stranger visiting a town. that being one of the few things i remember from college, i’m going to concur.
night catches us takes place in philadelphia 1976, ten years after the black panther movement established. marcus(anthony mackie from the hurt locker, several spike lee movies, hollywood homicide, he also plays tupac in the non-hitchcock notorious), a former black panther who’s been away for four years(including some jail time), returns home after his father’s death. he doesn’t get along with his muslim brother(biological) played by black thought from the roots(who also scored the movie). there’s also a neighborhood gangster/former black panther member doright(jamie hector from some it’s-not-tv show called the wire) who accuses marcus of being a snitch, leading to the killing of their panther leader. kerry washington(who’s no stranger to high-quality indies) plays patricia, the widow of the leader, still living in the same house, with her daughter. she is now a lawyer and takes in troubled neighborhood teens, in this case, a cousin. did i mention kerry washington?
all of these elements seem to be a setup for a potboiling awardbaiting melodrama. yet first time director tanya hamilton wisely chose for it to be a character study. the schemes, shootouts, fights, conflicts->resolutions type structures are second to the characters here. on the surface it’s about the two characters’ relationship after a four year period but there are so many underlying subtexts here that it’ll give viewers plenty to think about. unlike spike lee or oliver stone, there’s no heavy handed messages or rhetoric to make the movie unbearable. every single character, from the two leads, to the white cops, to the dumb cousin, to the local gangster, all avoided being stereotypes or plot devices and have shades and depth not seen in most movies.
i think night catches us works so well is because hamilton picked a very interesting and important historical peroid in u.s. history to do a seemingly simplistic story. a period with characters that you rarely see on screen. a full decade after the start of the movement, what is happening to these people’s lives? did they just quit and move on? were things better? how do we deal with our past? what do former rebels/activists tell their children? hide from them or tell them the truth? how much is enough for someone to finally say enough and quit? is it better to change within the system(become a lawyer) than fight headon with weapons? do social status or age require us to act differently? how does money and glamour or “blings” change ideals? who, exactly, are the enemies, the whites or the authorities, both, or something entirely new? did the fbi really have a comic book division? rap music didn’t start this “don’t snitch” movement?
hamilton also thankfully spares us historical flashbacks/reenactments/achieve footages, which is almost expected in any historical movies. i don’t know how educational it is but it is one hell of a movie, smart, mature, and emotional(extremely beautiful and well-shot as well, not many movies make me think of the costumes department). like most great movies, it raises questions without boring the audience and makes us care about the characters, even the minor ones. there are complaints about the movie’s out-of-place music or the unsatisfying resolutions, but the movie works despite these nitpicking trivial shortcomings. the first act is a little slow (but inevitable) and i could do without some of the nature shots. there is somewhat of a twist at the end but this ain’t no philadelphia m. night type twist. it’s more of a truth-revealing than a be-all-end-all shyamalanian twist. on the whole it’s one of the best adult drama i’ve seen in years. in a year when merely good and respectable movies were celebrated and almost no minority nominees, it’s a shame that night catches us didn’t get more attention.
but that’s why we are here.
p.s. night catches us was nominated for independent spirit award but lost to get low. it was also nominated for numerous naacp image award but anthony mackie lost to danzel washington for the book of eli, kerry washington lost to halle berry’s multiple personalities oscar bait, hamilton lost directing to tyler perry, and the movie lost to the above mentioned halle berry emotional/psychological torture porn. yes, naacp stands for national association for the advancement of colored people, the same group, in the same year, nominated justin timberlake for the social network.
p.p.s. once again proving the stupidity of the masses, like the 2000 and 2004 election; or the internet as a whole, night catches us receives a 5.8/10 rating on imdb, the same as grown ups, takers, lady in the water, and waterworld. but not as good as the tourist, transformers ii, saw iv, and the last action hero. once again confirming my feeling towards of all things viral.
night catches us is currently available on netflix instant.