Invictus (2009)

Since Clint Eastwood is fast becoming my favourite director, I was excited about seeing how he’d tackle a film which combined politics and sport. Based on true events, Invictus follows Nelson Mandela’s (Morgan Freeman) first couple of years as President of South Africa and how he succeeded in achieving what many believed to be impossible, bringing a country which was completely divided together again and exceeding expectations beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

The film has a powerful opening as it juxtaposes shots of white children playing football with shots of black children playing separately. This immediately highlights the lack of unity in the country at the time of Nelson Mandela’s realease from prison and reveals the challenge he faced in bringing the country together.

Following his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa and came to power in 1994. His first priority as President was to “balance black aspirations with white fears” and attempt to end the tensions and hostilities that apartheid had created. He sees an opportunity to do this by getting behind the country’s Springboks rugby team in preparation for the 1995 world cup team and using their success as a way to bring the country together and defy expectations. Although he never actually states his intention outright, he arranges a meeting with the Captain of the Springboks Francois Peinaar (Matt Damon), and Francois gathers from this meeting that Mandela wants the Springboks to win the World Cup. Despite the odds being against them, as the Springboks are losing most of the games they play, Peinaar and Mandela set out to achieve this and change the mindset and performance of the team in time for the World Cup.

It was no surprise to see Morgan Freeman play Nelson Mandela as it’s a role he was destined for. He looks the part and completely immerses himself in the role to the extent that you completely forget you’re watching an actor, and not Mandela himself. Although the film mainly covers Mandela’s politics, it also reveal brief glimpses into his troubled family life and the strained relationship he has with his daughter, reminding the viewer that despite his great reputation, he is also an ordinary man with ordinary problems. Matt Damon is in impressive shape as Francois Peinaar and looks every inch the rugby player. He clearly put a lot of effort into getting fit and learning how to play the sport and this is evident in the rugby scenes, as he throws himself into the sport and doesn’t stand out from the other players. As Francois, he seems a little lacking in character and assertiveness. If this is what the real Francois Peinaar was like, it’s difficult to understand how he lead his team to victory when he could barely raise his voice. A little bit of artistic license could have been useful here in making the character’s leadership skills more evident.

The last thirty minutes of Invictus were probably the most entertaining as they cover the World Cup final match and show the gritty nature of the sport, as well as showing how the Rugby team have succeeded in making their country feel united, as black and white fans all get behind the team and cheer them on. Eastwood goes a bit overboard with his coverage of rugby scrums and there are ridiculous grunting noises played in slow motion, which are hard to take seriously. Yes, it’s a tiring sport, but there’s no need to rub this fact in our faces. It’s obvious.

My biggest complaint about Invictus is that it sometimes edges into corny. The music contains lyrics about defying expectations, and there are flashbacks to Mandela’s time spent in prison, which I thought was unnecessary. Everyone knows he spent a long time in prison, so these flashbacks just seemed surplus to requirement. The pace of the film is quite slow, but it’s such an interesting topic you don’t lose interest. The end credits add a touch of authenticity to the film as there is a photo montage with images from the actual match, reminding the viewer that these events really happened and leaving them feeling unavoidably inspired.

Dir: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman

rating: 6

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