The 1970's was a decade of changing times. Laws were changing, minds were changing and depending on who you asked, those changes could have been bad or good. The Black Panther Party of Self-Defense was also a part of the changing times. While seeing their continued rise during the early parts of the decade, the 70's also saw their eventual demise. Night Catches Us is a film about a fictional group of former Panthers and their lives after their time in the group ended.
After being away for years, Marcus (Anthony Mackie) comes back to the Philadelphia neighborhood that he used to call home. Marcus however, isn't exactly welcomed back with open arms. The only ones that seems to be happy to see him is his longtime friend Patricia (Kerry Washington) and her daughter (Jamara Griffin). Things go from bad to worse when he runs into some of his former running mates who believe he was the reason for the death of a mutual friend.
Some of the drama that surrounds Marcus is caused by the fact that people believe he's not trustworthy. The fact that he may be a snitch hangs over the film until we find out the truth. For me personally, it was always stuck in my mind up until that point and I figure that might have been the reason for doing it this way. It forces you to keep up with what's going on as we also continue to see what Marcus experiences during his return home.
That adds another factor to the film's drama. His dealings and interactions with everyone around him may be the most crucial part to the story. Experiencing him being treated as the enemy by people that were once fellow Panthers, while also watching and learning about his relationship with Patricia eventually ends up being the core of the film's plot. These performances put on by the actors are not flamboyantly or visually powerful, but they tell the story the way it needs to be told. These actors use subtlety to blend in with the nature of the film and combined, it helps to boost the power that is presented with the film's overlying themes.
The acting was solid across the board and that includes the acting novice Tariq Trotter. While that may be the case, I did have a problem with Kerry Washington being chosen for the role she had. In my opinion, the character that she portrayed was too strong of a character for her. She doesn't look the part of a former Black Panther and I didn't think she had the strength to pull off the role as well as it could have been done. She's performed well in other roles, but I don't think she was the best choice based on what should have been required.
There is a lesson to be learned in Night Catches Us. It takes the opportunity to explain why some people shouldn't get involved in things that they know nothing about. In this case it would be about learning what it meant to be a Black Panther and the responsibility that came with it. This lesson can be used in a lot of different areas of life and I like the message that it sends.
There are other things that someone can look at as far as this movie teaching lessons or asking questions. Multiple choices that are made by the characters are choices that can hurt themselves or others. In Night Catches Us, those choices come from a position that presents itself in more of a shade of gray than in black and white. The film never tells the viewer what to think in these circumstances and it just wants you to see it and judge for yourself. That's a positive in my opinion, since that's something that we really shouldn't have the ability to control anyway.
In her directorial debut, I think that Tanya Hamilton (who also wrote the film) did a solid job at displaying what she wants displayed. She takes the time to build the story and makes the characters and neighborhood connect to one another. This film does a fine job of illustrating some of the abilities of the cast and it never puts the viewer in a position to feel lost. It's a small film where everything simply falls into place. Nothing is out of whack and nothing is overblown.
Director: Tanya Hamilton
Film Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: December 3, 2010
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures