Screening In NYC: NIGHT CATCHES US (2010).

Posted: August 25, 2011 in Movies (N), Screenings

 

 

Let’s take a moment to credit some of the lesser-heralded arts of movie-making, such as production design, set dressing, and costumes.  Night Catches Us is set in Philadelphia in 1976, and looks it.  The movie feels contemporary and believable, but also convincingly forty years ago.  Let’s also compliment its cinematography – Night Catches Us has the hazy look of summer and memory.  But most of all, this is a movie of ideas.

Night Catches Us (great title, by the way) posits one of the most probing questions I’ve seen a movie bother to pose in quite some time:  What happens after history?

Most period pictures like to chronicle major moments in history at the hour of their doing.  But what happens after all of the fire and the drama, when the dust settles and the pieces need picking up?

Anthony Mackie (8 Mile, Million Dollar Baby, Notorious, The Hurt Locker) plays an ex-Black Panther who returns to the neighborhood where he and his compatriots waged a revolution, where many of them still live, and where some of them no longer do.  Some of his old Black Panther allies, most vocally represented by The Wire’s Jamie Hector (in a much more animated role than his Marlo Stanfield), as the excellently named DoRight Miller, believe that Mackie’s Marcus Washington betrayed the movement, and is no longer to be trusted.

The always-wonderful Kerry Washington plays the lawyer and young widow whose husband, once Mackie’s best friend, was the Panther who he was supposed to have betrayed.  Much of the movie is committed to detailing the tension and the affection between these two characters and the history between them, just as it is to the connection between Mackie’s character and Washington’s young daughter, who is curious about the recent past, and the past lives of all of these grown-ups to whom she still looks admiringly.

There are also brief but memorable turns from Wendell Pierce, as a detective who has a keen interest in the return of Marcus Washington, and Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought from The Roots, who plays Marcus’ brother, now living a life dedicated to Islam, and not thrilled to see his brother return.  The Roots also supply the movie’s score, which is spare but very fine.  (There’s not an abundance of music in this film — those guys, the hardest-working band in show business, only have so much free time.)  The film closes with The Roots’ track “How I Got Over” (the title track from the album of the same name), and it’s a fitting conclusion – contemplative yet upbeat, positive yet still yearning, full of convinction yet still questing.

Night Catches Us is a quiet movie, which is the boldest and riskiest way to make a movie these days.  It dares to leave many questions and conflicts unresolved, yet it still manages to dwell in your memory for months after first seeing it.  It’s a story about the aftermath of the storms of history, but more than that even, it’s a story about people, what they say and what they don’t say, and how those conversations and silences can move history too.

Night Catches Us screens tonight at BAMcinematek in Brooklyn. The screening will feature a Q&A with the film’s director, Tanya Hamilton, and producer Ron Simons.  Click here for more details.

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