I find it increasingly alarming that nobody around my neck of the woods knows exactly who Nelson Mandela is. I don’t have a lot of heroes in my life, and over the years I become more and more suspicious of anyone who claims to do something for the greater good. But Nelson Mandela has always been a personal icon for international peace, equality, and, most importantly, forgiveness. His story is harrowing and meaningful, and an important one for us to learn and never forget. But it’s a story that is already fading from people’s hearts and minds, and I hope that today’s film, a spry little sports movie named Invictus brings his inspiring tale to new ears, and reminds everyone that not very long ago, people were still separated in society based on the color of their skin.
It is the story of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the year South Africa hosted it. But it is simultaneously about the life of Nelson Mandela, specifically from his inauguration in 1994 to the Rugby World Cup. When he first takes office, Mandela is swamped from the start with issues that require his immediate attention. Although apartheid is over, South Africa is not yet united, and that seems to be his first great hurdle, to unite the once-oppressive minority whites with the majority of black South Africans. While watching the national rugby team, the South African Springboks, Mandela decides that the way to unite the races is to ensure that the team goes to the World Cup Finals and wins. Considering that they’re a bunch of losers when the film starts, it seems like a daunting task, but Mandela has an idea of how to inspire them to victory. With a tough set of matches ahead of them, can the Springboks pull it together and come from dead last to make it to the Finals? Can Mandela unite a country torn apart by racial tensions? Can anybody tell me what a Springbok is?
Clint Eastwood takes a break from directing taut, heart-breaking dramas to make what might be the most inspiring movie of 2009. It just makes you feel GOOD. I just wanted to erase the racial tensions of my own country after I left the theater, but it’s always a little more difficult in America, you know. It’s a positively uplifting story about the power of one man to forgive and how that can affect a country, and how something as simple as rugby can bring people together from all walks of life. I detest sports, and even I was invested in this plucky underdog story. Eastwood touches on a lot of issues here, and through Mandela we travel across all walks of life to discover the sometimes startling fact that we’re really not all that different.
The production is middling but pleasant. All music in Invictus is surprisingly bland. The more I heard of it, the less I wanted there to be a soundtrack at all. There is hardly any good African music, which happens to be a soft spot for me, and a lot of the songs featured are message songs about peace that only serve to pile on to the peace-iness that is Nelson Mandela’s story. The direction is good, but often Eastwood sticks with a shot and goes with it for too long. I liked his more dynamic work in Flags of Our Fathers and Million Dollar Baby, where he was willing to take more risks with his camera. His straight-forward approach is not bad, by any means, but for an energetic rugby movie, I was not really all that jazzed, even during the sporting scenes.
I cannot stress enough how long I have wanted Nelson Mandela to be portrayed on the screen by Morgan Freeman. He looks and speaks just like the man, and while Freeman is slightly more daunting in stature, they seem perfect for each other in a cinematic sense. And while I was hoping Freeman would do a straight biopic of him, I will take this over nothing. This was Freeman’s role of a lifetime, and he nailed it! Every line was dripping with cultural and historical importance, and I doubt even Morgan Freeman knows how powerful his performance was. Matt Damon exceeds expectations as the captain of the rugby team, Francois Pienaar. He is a little bland, and rather off-putting at first with his prudish Afrikaner family, still does his best and succeeds in hitting some good emotional notes. He is not really that interesting, honestly, but you cannot really fault Damon for this; it seems to be a situation that the character, intrinsically, has not so many interesting things about him, so he just has to work with what he has, and for that I say kudos. A standout minor player is Tony Kgoroge, who plays Mandela’s head bodyguard. As the head of security, he is constantly plastered with a worrisome look on his face and a 24 hour grimace. He is on hgh alert as an actor, and I appreciated how natural he was at it. I look forward to seeing more from this young actor.
Invictus is something special to me because of its content, but on its own merits, it’s merely good. Greatness might have been achieved a great many other ways, by making it more about Mandela’s life and times, perhaps spending a bit more thought on the production, or having more exciting rugby scenes, but it’s far from mediocre. With excellent performances by everyone involved, a very inspiring and uplifting script, and a delightful appearance by the New Zealand All Blacks as the villains at the end, it does a good job for what it is. Anyone not very knowledgeable on Nelson Mandela, though, should watch this and learn a little something about one of the world’s finest living individuals. I give Invictus 8 Morgan Mandelas out of 10. Check it out!
Tomorrow I watch Dark City! Until then!