WRITTEN and DIRECTED BY: Tanya Hamilton
Tanya Hamilton’s wonderful and beautifully realized period drama, Night Catches Us, deserves more than its current limited theatrical release and video-on-demand availability.
This film proves that there are many superior and well-made Black films out there by incredibly talented Black filmmakers, and that these films are worthy of wider attention and bigger audiences.
Set in Philadelphia in 1976, the film’s strong sense of period detail with its subtle tone and mood, as well as its dramatic urgency and political leanings, recall some of the great films of the ’70s, back when there were films with a deeper resonance and weight of importance.
Hamilton’s film works not only as a political drama, but also as a deep romance. Night Catches Us is a fondly nostalgic reflection of a bygone era, an era when African Americans were active participants, more aware of and more fully engaged in forces and events that shaped their world. Unlike today, where most of the ÒengagingÓ revolves around some outlandish character on Reality TV.
In the film, Anthony Mackie portrays Marcus, a former Black Panther and political activist who returns to Philly after the death of his father.
Marcus discovers that things haven’t necessarily changed for the better.
Conflicts with his brother, who during Marcus’s absence has become a devout Muslim, and tensions from former Panther mates, who believe that Marcus sold out one of their own, makes Marcus’s homecoming not such a happy occasion.
Marcus eventually reconnects with Neil’s former wife Patricia (Washington), who now is a community lawyer and activist with a young daughter (Griffin) and an older boyfriend. Patricia and Marcus do a slow dance, barely suppressing long-buried romantic feelings for one another.
In the meantime, Marcus is harassed by the police, played menacingly by Pierce, and in a sign of further trouble to come, Patricia’s cousin Jimmy, who desperately longs for the old days of racialism brought on by his confusing search for identity within the context of oppression.
Jimmy’s lack of hope leads him to commit a violent act that sets off an intense neighborhood confrontation.
Several things make Hamilton’s film special, including the outstanding performances by Mackie and Pierce (they are excellent as always), and Washington gives the best performance of her career to date.
Hamilton’s perceptive and intelligent screenplay and astute direction, are complemented by the subtle, quiet nuances and details in her film. In addition, there is the eclectic and vibrant ’70s Philly soul music score by The Roots, and the haunting visual touches, such as the flickering glow of fireflies in the humid summer nights.
Hamilton infuses her deeply felt film with a quiet, haunting sensibility of people seemingly lost with the direction of their lives, yet knowing that though times have changed, they still have the flicker of life and possibility left in them.
It’s definitely well worth your time and effort to seek out Night Catches Us. It’s a superbly made, emotional and captivating film that will inhabit your mind long after it’s over.