At first blush, the timing seems odd: Why make a film about an obscure freedom fighter in South Africa 25 years after the fact? Why now? Why this story? Then, about 30 minutes into the film, it hits—oh yeah, Iraq.
Based on a true story, Catch a Fire follows Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), a hard-working black South African who keeps his head down long enough to get promoted to a foreman at the local oil refinery. But when a bomb goes off at the refinery, Patrick is implicated due to a convoluted, but apparently real, set of circumstances. Enter Nic Vos (Tim Robbins), the head of the local anti-terrorism task force. Nic throws Patrick into prison to be interrogated (read: tortured)—and when whitey is unable to beat any information out of Patrick, the government picks up his wife and tortures her too.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Patrick decides to join the guerilla forces and wage war against white South Africa—although this personal transformation, which could have been rich with internal conflict and hand-wringing, is hardly fleshed out.
Ultimately, it's impossible to see Catch a Fire as anything but an allegory to the current "war on terror." The torture scenes are gut wrenching, especially when one considers that the US government is using tactics that are at least as cruel and inhuman. And the film indirectly draws comparisons between the freedom fighters and insurgent Iraqi "terrorists." But the biggest lesson to take away from the film: Pig-headed and cruel tactics by people in power only create more terrorists.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers never fully commit to this allegory, preferring a confused mish-mash of personal drama and political polemic. By the film's heavy-handed final act—which is meant to give the viewer a warm sense of hope—viewers will likely just be scratching their heads.