Night Catches Us

A welcome antidote to self-congratulatory post-revolutionary fade outs, Tanya Hamilton’s debut feature is set in bicentenary-year Philadelphia in the aftermath of the Black Panther movement. Despite some on-the-nose dialogue and a needless revelatory flourish toward the end, Hamilton gets at the strangeness of lived American history, in which violent ruptures leave behind poorly understood scars.

Back from points unknown, hard-headed but chastened Marcus (Anthony Mackie) returns home for his father’s funeral. He finds a mix of resentment, determination, and confusion among family and former radical associates. Lawyer and go-between Patricia (Kerry Washington), hesitant to settle down with a square colleague, is primed to fall for this refugee from the past. Meanwhile, Marcus is met with resistance from some locals and treated with contempt from cops who want to use him as an informer.

The 41-year-old Hamilton, who also wrote the screenplay, lets the jockeying for respect and questions of community and authenticity play out in a simmering suburban summertime. She also makes intriguingly abrupt use of archival montages, which function less as history lessons than as nagging recurring dreams. Featuring two prominent alumni from The Wire, the film benefits significantly from its good-looking leads, snappy vintage outfits, and, last but not least, a bumping soundtrack by the Roots.