Monday, December 28, 2009


This is the remarkable true story of Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman). After spending 27 years in a prison for being wrongfully convicted by South African courts of sabotage and other anti-apartheid acts Mandela was finally released in 1990. Upon being released he continued his work in the anti-apartheid movement and even went on to become the first black President of South Africa. During his time as President, Mandela worked to unite the country because there was still a divide between the whites and blacks. He believed strongly that rallying the country behind the rugby team in the 1995 World Cup would help band together the splintered ethnic groups under one united banner.
The lousy South African rugby team gets an automatic bid into the World Cup because South Africa is the host country. Even though apartheid for the most part is over by the mid 90's the rugby team itself still mirrors the divide present in the country. The blacks cheer against the South African team called the Springboks because the team represents prejudice and apartheid in their minds. Predictably, all the whites cheer for the mostly white rugby squad (the team has one black man).
Mandela calls upon the Springboks captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to work toward the goal of winning the World Cup while using their influence as prominent sports figures to help soften the divide between whites and blacks in the country. This involves integrating with the community and reaching out to the locals, especially the much poorer black population. Of course the team also needed to step their game up to have success in the tournament and give the country something to rally around. 

The story itself is nothing short of exceptional. The screenplay for Invictus highlights how truly great a man Nelson Mandela really was. The dialogue in the script was powerful and always meaningful to the storyline. While the overriding story was very well constructed the only two characters highlighted by this film were Freeman and Damon's characters. The script attempted mildly to develop some of the characters who were part of Mandela’s Secret Service, but that was more a subplot of mending an interracial security team as opposed to accentuating a supporting cast or making the audience care about these characters.
I understand the story should be focused on these two leading men, but with such a long movie the scenes without the two main characters feel in a way empty. From all the faces on the rugby team and Secret Service I never felt closer than a stones throw away to any of these characters. The main characters in this story are of utmost importance, but the supporting cast needs some distinction too. Another minus for the script is how slow it moved. 2 hours and 14 minutes is hard to bear when the script takes so long to get rolling on the important elements of this story.

The film was directed by Clint Eastwood. He did a fine job of bringing the importance of events and the players involved with his camera work. With all that was at stake in this racially charged environment the viewer can really feel the consequences of failed peacekeeping practices that Mandela applied (a possible resurgence of apartheid or rebellion against the first black president). The setting of the story was placed perfectly and showed divide and then unity as the country begins to forget about skin color and rally under the colors of the South African flag.
 Mixed into the story were scenes that seemed out of place. If you see the movie you will understand. One thing that especially bothered me was the dramatized crisis's surrounding Mandela and his protection. The scenes come across as worthless in the scope of the entire project and left me disgruntled because of their inclusion into this film. The element of danger surrounding possible attempts on the President's life could have been conveyed better. Once again, if you see the film you will understand.
The acting by both Damon and Freeman was most adequate. Award worthy? Eh. Both Freeman and Damon have been nominated for Golden Globe awards and Oscar nominations may follow. I personally thought both performances were heartfelt and moving at times but not good enough to warrant award nominations. My dismay was bolstered by the inconsistent accents of both actors at times. The accents felt a little forced.

Overall, Invictus was a film that not only entertains but was educational as well. It profiles two great men who helped the movement against racial segregation in South Africa. The movie carries a lot of historical and cultural weight while also highlighting the beauty and grit of Rugby. I think this movie is one that every movie goer should eventually see, but there are better films to see this holiday season (The Blind Side, Avatar).
My take on this one - If you love dialogue filled movies (with a dash of rugby action), or are big Damon or Freeman followers, or have any historical interest in the amazing deeds of Nelson Mandela, you should see this movie immediately. Otherwise, you could wait for a rental. 

*The picture below features the real legends Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar.

Seen it? Any thoughts? 


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