Sunday, December 13, 2009

Invictus Film Review

The first scene in director Clint Eastwood's Invictus shows Nelson Mandela being driven to freedom traveling down a road with whites playing rugby on one side and poor blacks playing soccer on the other. That physical separation was the metaphor for what Mandela was facing when he became President of South Africa. Invictus is the story of the extraordinary victory of the South African rugby team over the favored New Zealand team in the 1995 World Cup.

At the time of Mandela ascended to the presidency, South Africa was divided by race with resentment from the newly empowered black majority towards the white minority who previously ruled the country. It was divided by economic class. Poor blacks lived in shanty towns. A symbol of the old apartheid system was the Springboks, the South African Rugby team. Blacks would root against the team while the white Afikaners supported the sport and the team. So it comes as a surprise that in the film, Mandela personally fights to save the team's name and colors when the new national sports council moves to strip the team of its name.

The film depicts Mandela's political calculation. When the World Cup was held in South Africa, he would use the rugby team as a symbol of reconciliation. By supporting the Springboks, a team associated with white Afrikaners, he would lead his nation to unification. For if Nelson Mandela could support the Springboks then it would be alright for blacks to do so also.

If this story came from a writer's computer it would be too saccharin to accept. But it's based on true events. Perhaps, that's why director Clint Eastwood keeps the story from becoming too maudlin or melodramatic. Eastwood has always had an eye for great stories and this film's tale is no less enthralling than his other films. Morgan Freeman as Mandela is so good that one forgets that he is not Mandela but acting. Matt Damon does a very good South African accent as Francois Pienaar, the team captain. We see his transformation from neutral to an empathetic supporter for the the new South Africa.

The one complaint I have is the music. Eastwood at times has written his own soundtracks and in this one he uses his son Kyle to help compose the music. This a film that needs an experienced composer to put the music to the film. Some of his choices for songs are a little over the top. Yet, he uses a modest theme for Mandela that would work for Mystic River but not this film. This film needs a big, inspirational sweeping score for the climatic game. Though I do appreciate the South African song sung during the game and Damon's dramatic words to his team.

Invictus is a good sports movie. It's an inspiring film of reconciliation and unity between races. The grade is B+.

Here's the scene during the game with Damon's inspiring words to his team.

Here's the trailer for the film.

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