Review: Invictus

Invictus | Clint Eastwood, 2009

When I first heard that Morgan Freeman was set to play Nelson Mandela in a movie directed by Clint Eastwood I was extremely excited. I mean, how could anyone not be excited at the prospect of a movie about one of the greatest human beings ever where he is played by the english-speaking guy who was most likely born to play him and is directed by one of the most consistent directors out there? Well, sometime passed before I heard anything about it and when details were released about it I was underwhelmed by the fact that it was going to be a movie about a sports movie about an underdog team winning the big game. Yet, I remained optimistic. In the end it was just above those movies with the same story, meaning I was disappointed.

Invictus opens with a newsreel about Mandela being released from prison with the obvious racial tension going on around him. The reel ends with him being sworn to office. Then we pick up from his first day in office where almost every white person is leaving the building. Then he says something inspirational and the ones that hadn’t already left stayed. Then the security leader requests more me to work for him. He gets them but they are white. There’s tension, Mandela says something inspirational, and the bodyguard just moves on. Then he goes to a rugby match of the local team, the Springboks, and they suck, but he wants to use them as a way to bring peace to the blacks and the whites. So, more time elapses, he says more inspirational stuff, and they go on to the championship of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

So, yeah, the way I described it is how the entire movie is structured. The script by Anthony Peckham is both a generic biopic and a clichéd sports story. We learn nothing new about Mandela or about his troubled self, we just see him lead. As for the rugby story, it is exciting because of the way Eastwood directed it, but there is nothing new there. There is racial tension in the beginning, then as they start winning blacks and whites start getting along, and in the end they are all hugging. Plus, the moment I saw the two tough guys getting excited and then wanting to hug but then realize who they are and then they just shake hands I had to laugh, not in the “LOL how cute” manner, but in the “They did not just do that” kind of way.

Like I said, the reason why these scenes work is because of how Eastwood directed them, yet one decision of his made me lower my regard to his work here. In the championship match Mandela’s security team is on high alert because that’s the way body guards are and because there were (and still are) white people who hated him. Well, then we cut to an airplane and we see the captain saying that whatever happens is his responsibility and he looks evil. Then we see the airplane getting close to the stadium. The security team freaks out, but there is no time to get Mandela out, there are a few tense seconds, but it turns out that they just wanted to wish the team good luck. Now, this happened for real, but Eastwood could have chosen to stray from the script and just show the plane wishing them good luck, but no, he just had to play up the 9/11 imagery to get some sort of reaction from the audience. Shame on you Clint!

As for the performances, they were pretty good, but they came up short. Freeman is good at playing a guy with power who can come up with inspiring words on the spot, but I never looked at him as Nelson Mandela. His presence is just too distracting and his voice too unique for him to play a real life character. Matt Damon is also good as François Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks, but he doesn’t have to do anything special, he just had to have an accent and give speeches. Neither performance deserved the Oscar nomination that they received.

Invictus is nothing you haven’t seen before. And despite its huge flaws, I could not help but get involved with what was going on. Worth seeing, but don’t expect greatness.

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