Year of Release: 2009
Date Viewed: July 21st, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Is it just me or does Clint Eastwood seem like a really busy guy these days? In 2008, he brought us one of my favorite films of that year; Changeling, the true story of the disappearance of Christine Collins' son. Later that same year, he returned in front of the camera for the heartfelt and very entertaining Gran Torino. The next year, Eastwood returned to the director's chair to continue his streak of emotion stirring pictures with Invictus; a new kind of tale about South Africa's famed president, Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman).
Originally conceived as a full biopic, it was later decided to focus on a specific era of Mandela's political career; the era that brought not only a personal victory but one for an entire country.
The film begins with Mandela's release after twenty-six years behind bars as a political prisoner. He wins election to office with the goal of uniting the dangerous and often violent divide between the white Afrikaners and black natives of South Africa. This idea doesn't go over well with all the population (What campaign ever does?) and it doesn't take long for Mandela's security team to fear an attack on the progressive leader.
Searching for effective options, Mandela turns his eye to South Africa's rugby team known as the Springboks. The team is made up almost exclusively of white Afrikaners. The black natives hold contempt for the team because it is seen as a dark label of longtime racial injustice. The bitterness is so strong that the visiting teams often have stronger home field support than the local team. Sensing an opportunity to shake up the current morale, Mandela arranges a special meeting with the Springboks captain François Pienaar (played by Matt Damon). A lifelong rugby fan himself, Mandela pitches a seemingly impossible task to Pienarr, asking him to lead his team to the Rugby World Cup. The idea is that if they could get the entire nation to rally behind a common goal, it will pave the way for further progress and get opposing parties into the habit of working together.
Initially reluctant given the team's less than stellar win-loss record, Pienaar is eventually won over by Mandela's charm and fearless charisma. During the meeting, Mandela brought up a poem that he said kept his spirits up for so long during his imprisonment. The poem, titled Invictus, includes the phrase "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." These newfound fighting words inspire Pienaar to rally his troops and bring the World Cup trophy to a new united South Africa.
Nelson Mandela's personality has been brought to life in cinemas before. Dennis Haysbert gave a well crafted performance as Mandela in 2007's The Color of Freedom; a fine film in its own right. Freeman however doesn't perform Mandela. He IS Mandela. Not that surprising considering that he was reportedly hand-picked for the role by the man himself. Freeman devoted extensive practice to imitate Mandela's speaking style and accent. This is Acting 101 here brought to you by one of the world's finest.
Freeman immersing himself as a historical figure doesn't surprise me. What did surprise me was Matt Damon as a perfectly convincing rugby player. Well.....almost. My Dad thought Damon wasn't quite big enough to fit the bill although he does look more buffed up than usual. All the real rugby training that he prepared for probably contributed to the new muscles. Either that or Eastwood just used the right kind of camera tricks.
While we're on the subject, Eastwood's presentation, especially the cinematography is outstanding. Establishing shots are beautifully set up. Zoom-in shots are used at all the right times. The music score is minimal but effective. Eastwood has been around the movies for a long long time and knows what works. And it shows. Like I often say, experience is the only skill you can't teach.
Sports seem to have a way of bringing people together. The movie likes to explore this theme in between inspirational monologues spoken by Mandela and Pienaar. The actual scenes of rugby are few and far between, so action fans may be a little disappointed with the excitement factor. The heart of the film lies with witnessing one man's persistent devotion to unite his country in any way he can. There is a lot to admire about Invictus. So by that note, it's unlikely that you will regret renting this.