Night Catches Us (2010)

May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington play old friends in the 70's period drama 'Night Catches Us'

Written and Directed by Tanya Hamilton

Starring Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington

Night Catches Us almost has everything one would expect from a well pedigreed film. It relishes history- Characters reflect on their glory days while coming to terms with the socioeconomic issues of their 30’s- careers/family vs the fight, in the years just after the Civl Rights movement has ended while 20-somethings try to rekindle the war against what they perceive- in part rightfully so- to be discriminatory police tactics by neighborhood cops. They take what, at the time, was a necessary force like the Black Panthers and turn small problems into big issues to justify violence to feel powerful. It’s a dichotomy between those that survived long enough to learn the lessons history has to offer and those not yet old enough to understand the perspective that comes with age.

This is as much a history lesson as it is a drama, peppering in black & white stock footage from the civil rights movement. The film has decent but not great acting that straddles a line between understated and melodramatic, never quite being either. Kerry Washington comes off the strongest, as a complex ex-panther with children to care for. She is nuanced and grounded in a beautiful performance, with Anthony Mackie nearly equaling her.

The problem is the story, which is episodic in nature. paced like a television pilot rather than a film, which leads me to wonder if ‘Night’ would have worked better as a mini-series.

What this means is that it starts slow and though we get plenty of dialogue-heavy character interaction that serves as story and enriches the relationships, we get very little forward motion for the first half of the film. Lots of mundane everyday life scenes and cryptic references to stuff that happened a long time ago, but nothing that propels the story forward until well over halfway in. The film has a noble heart and complex ideas it wants to convey, but it bites off more than it can chew in a single film- stranger still given the brief 87 minute run time when you take out credits.

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