December 16, 2010

MOVIES: Night Catches Us (Tanya Hamilton, 2010)

It's 1976, and Marcus (Anthony Mackie) is returning home to Philadelphia for his father's funeral. He's been away for the last four years, and many of his old friends aren't too happy to see him. Marcus had been active in the Black Panther movement in the late 60s, and many in the neighborhood still believe that he snitched on his best friend, Neil, leading to Neil's death.

One person who doesn't believe that is Neil's widow, Patricia (Kerry Washington), who is now a lawyer raising her and Neil's 9-year-old daughter, Iris (Jamara Griffin). Iris is intrigued by Marcus because he's a connection to her father; she's intensely curious about him, and about the circumstances of his death, but Patricia is hesitant to talk about those things.

This is a low-budget first film, and it bears some of the flaws you expect in such efforts; the screenplay occasionally pours on the melodrama a bit too heavily, and not all of the actors are up to the level of the leads. But oh, those leads! Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington are excellent here (as they usually are), and Jamara Griffin gives a far smarter and more subtle performance than you'd expect from so young an actress. It's a smart story about how we deal with the fallout, legal and emotional, from dreams and ambitions that didn't go quite as hoped.

You may have to look hard to find this one; I imagine it won't be playing much beyond the largest cities. But it's definitely worth watching for.

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