Writer-director Tanya Hamilton and two of today’s most gifted actors have produced a sensitive drama with a powerful conclusion. Night Catches Us takes on some of the most complicated and painful issues of the era that saw the struggle for civil rights shift from “We shall overcome” to “Burn, baby, burn.” It is rare that we see those issues portrayed, rarer still that we see them explored with any recognition of complexity and nuance, and just about unheard of that we see how much more complicated and nuanced the issues were for the women.
It is 1976, and the United States is celebrating its 200th birthday. Some Americans are still feeling marginalized, neglected, or locked out.
Marcus (Anthony Mackie) who returns to his home in Philadelphia following the death of his preacher father. He seems rootless and restless. But it is immediately clear when he sees Patricia (another exquisite performance by Kerry Washington), a lawyer and single mother, that they have some history and that he wants to know whether they might have a future.
No one else seems happy to see Marcus, even his brother. It is apparent that the people he left behind feel abandoned and betrayed by him. Everyone seems to think he is the one who gave the police information that led to the death of one of the leaders of the Black Power movement. But it is also clear that he is a good man. Could he be protecting someone?
This is a sincere, thoughtful exploration of complex issues and complicated people. Washington and Mackie, who appeared together in “She Hate Me” give performances of great depth and dignity, spare but endlessly compelling and evocative. The story’s ambitions at times outstrip the ability of first-timer Hamilton, but it is those very ambitions that give the film its exceptional power. At its conclusion, we have to confront our own assumptions to recognize that it is really not Marcus’ story after all, and the whole movie opens up to deepen our appreciation and insight.