|Starring:||Derek Luke, Tim Robbins, and Bonnie Mbuli|
Sometimes even-handedness can go a bit too far. In telling the story of a terrorist and the cop who’s out to get him, Phillip Noyce gives us two heroes going against each other trying to do what each thinks is right. The problem of who to root for is a big one and even though this is based on a true story, we can see that Phillp Noyce and writer Shawn Slovo are somewhat conflicted.
The terrorist, Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), who’s telling the story, starts out the film as a foreman in a South African oil factory. This being the age of apartheid, he and his wife Precious (Bonnie Mbuli) live in a modest way, although they can be considered well off as opposed to most of the other oppressed blacks down there at the time. Noyce shows the oppressive way the white cops treat the blacks almost immediately, and how Patrick’s family reacts to it, showing little patience with his wanting to keep his head down and stay within the system.
Patrick is, a community activist of sorts, coaching a kids’ soccer team. He also has a mistress with whom he’s secretly fathered a child. This indiscretion may eventually lead to his downfall.
Nic Vos (Tim Robbins) is a captain in South Africa’s anti-terrorist squad. He’s politically a liberal, plays folksongs on the guitar, loves his family and believes in punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent. So when there’s a bombing at the plant where Patrick works, he has to investigate.
Now on the night in question, Patrick was away. His team had made the playoffs and thus he had Precious call him in sick in order not to lose his job (he was out of vacation days). This little deceit in itself is an innocent fib, what wasn’t so innocent is that he made a long trip to visit his girlfriend and their child. Thus, Patrick’s whereabouts cannot be explained comfortably. And when he’s arrested on suspicion of doing the bombing, he insists on repeating his cover story in order not to get fired, and this leads to more brutality.
The evil cops beat up Precious offstage and show Patrick the results, leading him to make a false confession. But Vos can tell he’s lying and lets them go because he believes in only punishing the guilty and protecting the public good. However this encounter with the system radicalizes Patrick and he runs off to join the African National Congress’ terrorist squad, where he trains to do what he was accused of in the beginning.
So we have, instead of a hero and a villain to deal with, a hero and a counter-hero, both, to fighting the good fight in an entirely ambiguous way. This film is all grey, and had this film taken place just about anywhere else, it would have been a lot more satisfying, but it was apartheid South Africa, and you’re not supposed to root for the Nazis, right? Because this film is not a documentary, the whole thing leaves you feeling confused.