Night Catches Us, Tanya Hamilton’s first feature as a director, is something to cherish. Set in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in the summer of 1976, the film catches us up on two former Black Panthers after the dream of the 1960s has morphed into something more practical. Lawyer Patricia (Kerry Washington) is surprised when Marcus (Anthony Mackie), an ex-love from the glory days, hits town after four years of playing mystery man. Patricia’s nine-year-old daughter Iris (Jamara Griffin, a pistol and then some) is intrigued. Her mom has been hiding things from her, including what circumstances led to the cops killing her daddy, Neal, when she was just 8 months old.
Hamilton doesn’t rush to supply answers. She lets her mesmerizing movie sneak up on you and seep in until you feel it in your bones. The fact that Hamilton studied painting at Cooper Union helps the images resonate, as does the haunting lighting supplied by cinematographer David Tumblety. Add a terrific score supplied by the Roots and the movie has you in its grip. Mackie and Washington could not be better; they had me at hello. Night Catches Us is essentially a ghost story, with the past persistently intruding on the present. Hamilton manifests her vision of what politics can do to individual thinking with subtlety and sophistication. Remember her name. She’s a genuine find.