Warner Brothers Pictures
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Movies are good at letting us observe slices of history that, no matter how hard we try to keep up on current events, have deeper meaning than what can be derived from a fifteen-second sound bite on television. Such a film is Invictus, the latest collaboration between director Clint Eastwood and actor Morgan Freeman.
Eastwood is, in my opinion, one of the top three American directors working in film today. His style, planning and economies in filmmaking are worthy of emulation by those who would squander millions of dollars on nothing but flash and eye candy. And as for Morgan Freeman, I would pay money just to watch and hear him read the phone book. He’s that good an actor and personality.
Invictus is about the new South Africa, beginning with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, his election as president to that country, and his heroic efforts in doing his best to unite the land that had been split asunder by apartheid.
Joining Eastwood and Freeman is Matt Damon as the South African captain of the Springboks, the rugby team that is a symbol of apartheid. When they play, the whites cheer the Springboks, and the blacks cheer for the opponent, regardless of country of origin. Mandela feels that uniting the country in the efforts of having this team win the world cup would go a long way in turning things around. The only catch is the team isn’t very good, and stands virtually no chance of advancing to the finals, let alone winning.
You don’t need to know anything about rugby to pick up what’s going on in this sport. It’s a lot like American football played in shorts and
t-shirts, and seems to be for only the hardiest of players. There’s also some dialogue to give you an idea of a few of the rules and plays.
Mandela also insists that the Afrikaaners, the whites of South Africa, who had worked for the previous administration, should continue with his, and interact with his own staff. It’s incredibly difficult for these people to turn on a dime and forget about years of torment and attitudes.
Invictus is a compelling story with all the right ingredients. Its heart and head are in the right place, and it’s a story that should be seen to, as the Matt Damon character says, “lead by example.” But somewhere along the way, it misses the mark. Instead of being a masterful historical perspective on what’s just and right, Invictus becomes basically a Rocky for rugby. Instead of being heroic and inspiring, it feels turgid and repetitive. And the climactic game seems to go on almost as long as a real rugby match.
For once, the Golden Globe Nominations, which were announced this past Wednesday, got it fairly right. Freeman does a fine job of conveying the weight on Nelson Mandela’s shoulders, and Matt Damon proves once again that he is one of the best young actors around. Both are deserving of their nominations. Although Eastwood has done much better work, I certainly won’t begrudge him his nomination for such a massive undertaking. The one notable omission from the Golden Globes is that it was not nominated for Best Picture. And that’s as it should be.
It’s not a bad film, not a great film; just a work that hangs somewhere in the middle of OK. My guess is that it will have great value as part of the high school history curriculum, in helping to enlighten those who may not be aware of these events.
The PG-13 rated Invictus is now showing in most plexes around town.