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Night Catches Us
BLU-RAY disk
Feb 24, 2011 By: Aaron the H
Night Catches Us order
Director:
Tanya Hamilton

Actors:
Anthony Mackie
Kerry Washington
Jamie Hector

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
in 1976 Philadelphia, an African Neighborhood deals with the ghosts of their past when a former Black Panther (Anthony Mackie) returns home for his dad's funeral.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Being that it's Black History Month and all, I already feel like a jerk for writing this review, and I haven't even started. Night Catches Us, the debut feature of writer/director Tanya Hamilton, is a film that deals with a familiar and yet vital subject: the black Civil Rights movement in America. However, unlike other powerful films of years past, like Malcolm X and Dead Presidents, Night Catches Us is just painfully lackluster and uninspired.

The main problem with the film is that the each of the characters storylines seems to have played out before the film ever started, and that doesn't mean we view their backstories in flashbacks. Rather, everyone makes only vague allusions to a past that shapes who they are today (more on that in a minute), and we never get to really see or understand what happened to them back in the 60's when the Black Panther movement was in full-stride. Instead we're in 1976, where all cops are still racist (shocker) and everyone else just seems to be standing around. Truly, none of our characters do so much as leave their block except for Mackie, who gives the film's only semblance of a multi-dimensional performance.

The talented Kerry Washington does everything she can with her limited role, but the writing is so vague and flat that it's hard for her to shine. And that's the film's greatest weakness- a script that seems as if it was written on-the-fly and without any forethought. It's as if the filmmakers were handed the money to make a film about the black struggle in America and told they had to shoot it in 2 months. That's the only way I can justify subplots that begin and then go nowhere, and a runtime of only 89 minutes, and that's including four or five irritating montages of Black Panther stock footage that seems to be inserted when the filmmakers can't figure out how to bridge to the next scene.

In the film's final scene, three characters say goodbye and head off in different directions without so much as a hug or a tear, as if they've built next-to-no connection with one another throughout the course. It's a perfect ending to a film that was never able to establish a relationship with its audience.
THE EXTRAS
Deleted Scenes - About 13 minutes worth of them here, including two alternate endings which only do more to show that the writer/director couldn't really figure out her story or what she wanted her characters to stay.

Interviews - Over an hour worth of content with 4 subjects, including several former Black Panthers. Probably the most interesting content on this disc.

Behind the Scenes: Confronting the Police - A misleading title, as this is really just someone hanging out with a camera capturing the lackadaisical film crew as it shoots a scene where Mackie gets confronted by police, not the other way around.

HDNet: A Look at Night Catches Us - A basic, four minute featurette where the director discusses some of her intentions for the film.

You also get a Photo Gallery.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Perhaps an explanation for the story's lackadaisicalness was that the filmmaker was trying to evoke the feeling of emotional paralysis that centuries of civil injustice imprinted on the African American community. If that's the case, it just didn't make for an engaging film. There are certainly worse ways to spend 90 minutes than with Night Catches Us, but if you're looking for a memorable film about the civil rights era, there are better options.
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