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Night Catches Us

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Drummer ?uestlove and his band, the Roots, contribute a pounding, soulful backbeat to this tale set in 1976 Philadelphia, mainly about a splintered group of ex--Black Panthers keeping it real in pre-Carter America. Although fists are raised in a propulsive title sequence, the movie is built on a much trickier mood---that of resignation, tarnished idealism and compromise. So, too, are some of the great American sociopolitical films: Nashville, The 25th Hour, Zodiac. But director Tanya Hamilton's original script, daringly quiet, feels too divorced from incident to brings its interpersonal frictions to a boil. The film has the beautiful varnish of nostalgia: an easy flow of backyard potlucks, those long Cadillacs and sullen childhood moments (courtesy of the captivating Griffin, as a forlorn neighborhood girl). Yet why are we visiting these characters now?

Our main point of entry is the effortlessly grave Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), who, as Marcus, comes home for his father's funeral after years of absence. His exile, we discover (over an exceedingly slow first hour), is fraught with bad blood; a comrade was killed by Feds just before Marcus's flight, and the rat was never found. Attractive widow Patricia (Washington) looks over the returned man uneasily---they have a history---as does a radicalizing young cousin, Jimmy (the powerful Amari Cheatom), drawn to violence. Night Catches Us surges awkwardly in its latter third, suddenly aware that a promising setup isn't enough. Regardless, here is an honorable attempt to address a complex chapter of African-American pride, one that's usually hidden under hairdos and wah-wah pedals. For a feature debut, Hamilton's effort is refreshingly brainy.

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Written by Joshua Rothkopf
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