Reel Shorts | Night Catches Us

10 12 2010


Director Tanya Hamilton shines a much-needed light on the Black Panther Party with her inner-city period piece, Night Catches Us. The film reunites stars Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie as ex-comrades who share a secret bond as they grapple with their lives — past and future.

It’s 1976 and Presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter is promising a more open government, which on the surface should be welcome news to the ears of former activists whose slogan was “power to the people.” But tensions begin to mount after Marcus (Mackie) returns home to bury his father — as well as his own contentious past. Years earlier, Marcus was accused of setting up another Party member who was later murdered by the police. As a result, Marcus has been labeled a snitch and ostracized by his former Panther comrades, most notably the group’s leader: the aptly named, DoRight (Jamie Hector), who believes Marcus is an informant.

It turns out that he’s partially correct: Mackie has been dealing with a detective (Wendall Pierce) as both protect a secret that could truly complicate matters and tear their community apart. Meanwhile, attorney Patricia (Washington) provides shelter and hot meals to local children and legal counsel to her ex-Panther mates as they transition from revolutionaries to members of mainstream society. While both she and Mackie are drawn to one another because of their shared history, a divide separates them: one wants to move forward, while the other clings to the former Panther ideology.

Increasing the tension is Patricia’s emotionally unstable cousin Jimmy (Amari Cheatom), who longs for the days when the Panthers protected the community from “the Pigs.” Also suspicious of and disillusioned by Marcus’ return, Jimmy’s unwarranted actions threaten to turn his Philadelphia community into a powder keg. Anchored by a thunderous soundtrack from The Roots and some memorable archival footage of the Black Panthers during their heyday, Hamilton has managed to create a revolutionary love story that is flawed, but largely succeeds because of several solid performances.

Washington and Mackie (who worked together in She Hate Me) both share amazingly tender on-screen chemistry, with their scenes together serving as the highlights of the film. Hamilton also takes great care in re-creating the details of a forgotten era in Black history with plenty of visual flourishes that resulted from more than 10 years of preparation. While the story is not perfect and the film moves slowly at times, it indeed “catches us” and makes us long for more community unity as well as other stories Hamilton might have in store for the future!

Grade: C+

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One response

14 01 2011
jan niekamp

This looks interesting, but a C rating, yikes. I still will see it.

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