December 11, 2009
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
Release Date: December 11, 2009
I Think He Wants Us to Win the World Cup
Over the past few weeks, the world has seen the release of two very well made sports movies. First we received The Blind Side, and now Invictus, the latest from Clint Eastwood. The 79 year old actor—whose best known for his roles as grizzled lawmen—has certainly proven his ability as a filmmaker during his twilight years, and Invictus is no exception. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down one iota.
Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela (Freeman), the former President of South Africa and the man credited with unifying a country riddled with racism and turmoil in the wake of apartheid. Given Mandela’s astonishing achievements, one would think the movie would be laden with dramatic flashbacks that clearly highlight the struggle he suffered as a prisoner for 27 years. Eastwood, it seems, has decided to take a different approach to telling this story.
The catalyst for this particular tale is rugby; a sport that many Americans know nothing about (admittedly, I knew little about the game going into the theater, but I did feel as if I had a better grasp of the sport as a whole when I walked out). This could easily be viewed in a negative way, as the bulk of the third act is focused solely on the rugby World Cup match that took place in 1995. Eastwood clearly revels in the brutality of the sport, as it nicely symbolizes the struggle the country was going through at that time. When teams lock arms and spar over field position, it’s clear just how painful the process is, and this adds even more depth to the same issues that—unlikely as it is—District 9 grappled with only a few months earlier.
Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, captain of the South African rugby team. This is a role that seems well-suited to Damon, whose solemn determination is exactly what Mandela needed as a face for the symbolic triumph over prejudice that he saw embodied in the competition. The acting honors, however, clearly go to Freeman. If there’s anyone who was destined to play Mandela, it’s him—Freeman’s mastery of the man’s mannerisms, accent, and general presence is astounding. There aren’t really any scenes that call for the emotional outbursts typically needed to garner an Oscar nod, but I have a feeling the sheer power of the movie as a whole will land Freeman a much deserved nomination.
That’s the thing about Invictus–at its core, it seems to be nothing more than an inspirational sports film, but there are many other issues rippling just beneath the surface. One could nitpick about the decision to film this “documentary style,” with only limited (extremely limited) glimpses into Mandela’s past, and I’d have to agree that it leaves a little bit of a hole in an otherwise absorbing movie. The message it sends to audiences, though, is what makes the final product so effective. And that, of course, is that athletics play a very important role in any society: they act as the ultimate unifying medium. Themes of bias and discrimination generate a lot tension, but when the final match is underway, everyone puts their differences aside (and inadvertently comes to the realization that we’re all one and the same).
As far as motivational sports films go, you could do a lot worse, and the patient directorial eye of Eastwood will cause you to linger on every frame. I wouldn’t say the movie is unforgettable, but it is a welcome pick-me-up that takes an optimistic stance on the nature of mankind.
out of 5
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Check out the trailer for Invictus: