Night Catches Us
Night Catches Us is a mildly interesting first attempt at directing by Tanya Hamilton, an alum of the Sundance Lab. The story (which Hamilton also wrote) takes place in Philadelphia in 1978. It focuses on two former Black Panthers, Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Pat (Kerry Washington). Marcus returns to Philadelphia, after several years in exile, to attend the funeral of his brother. His reasons for avoiding his hometown aren’t immediately clear. What is clear, is that he’s not welcomed there by many. His former comrades make it abundantly clear that he is no longer welcome, and should leave if he wants to avoid trouble. Pat is the only friendly face in town. But their budding relationship is difficult for friends, and especially for Pat’s daughter Iris (Jamara Griffin).
While there aren’t any glaring problems with Hamilton’s direction, there are some issues with her writing, particularly creating her characters. Marcus is overly distant, and despite finally learning his past, it never really explains why he’s just so grim. Washington’s performance manages to overcome the handicaps dealt to her by the script. She, along with Griffin, steal the show. On the positive, the racial tension that Hamilton built was quite august.
Hamilton has explained that she very much wanted to show the Black Panther movement as one with much more humanity than the media at the time would admit. When the plot deals directly with the history of the BPs, the film becomes quite intriguing. Particularly concerning federal propaganda meant to destroy the organization from the inside out. If the director had spent more time exploring the effects of this movement on the lives of her characters, I would have been much more pleased. Unfortunately, the film focuses so much on one tiny, mostly insignificant encounter between our two protagonists, that I fear the point of it all will be missed, and no one will even care. There’s not much more to this film than what meets the eye, and that’s not much.