Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Anthony Peckam, based on the novel Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
Running Length: 133 minutes
Opens: 7 January 2010
Synopsis: Based on the inspiring true story of the 1995 Rugby World Cup which followed Nelson Mandela’s (Morgan Freeman) rise to power in 1994, and the incredible run that South Africa managed to attain in the World Cup, despite the odds being heavily stacked against them. Mandela, working together with Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), manages to unite first the rugby team, and then South Africa as the nation bands together post-apartheid to show their support for the team.
Review: This is the time of year where the “serious movies”, more commonly known as Oscar bait, start coming out of the woodwork in droves. However, much as Eastwood’s Invictus is transparent about its Oscar grab, apart from Morgan Freeman there is little chance of this movie going that much further in the Oscar race. This is due to several reasons.
Whilst Invictus is well-filmed and reasonably soul-stirring, there are multiple lapses in its narrative and the film tends to be a little too heavy-handed at times, which diminishes the power of the movie. That said, although the final outcome of the movie is not a surprise (since it’s based on historical events), the film does manage to capture the audience’s interest and is worth a watch simply for Morgan Freeman’s excellent portrayal as Nelson Mandela. However, Freeman’s character is also the only fully realized one in Invictus – everyone else, Matt Damon included, are two-dimensional and seem to exist only to move the plot along.
Although this is ostensibly a sports movie, the sporting sequences actually play second fiddle to the political scenes. These behind-the-scenes snippets offer an interesting insight into how Mandela maneuvers the participation of South Africa’s Springboks in the Rugby World Cup into a matter of national pride, successfully unifying the country in the unstable post-apartheid times and achieving a very satisfying conclusion.
Much screen time is accorded to a subplot about the integration of Mandela’s security task forces, which used to consist entirely of Afrikaans but now needs to incorporate a team of whites. This is obviously used in the movie to mirror the state of the country itself, but there’s no real outcome to this subplot and begs the question of why so much time was devoted to an eventually inconsequential storyline. In fact, at times Invictus feels like two movies squashed together, and awkwardly so. The audience is even misled into thinking that there will be an attempt on Mandela’s life, but there’s no payoff for this assumption either.
Invictus could have been a truly inspirational sports movie, and though it manages to check off most of the boxes for this genre, the little niggling issues make the film just fall short of greatness. It’s an entertaining film, nonetheless, and definitely still worth the price of admission.
Rating: * * * (out of four stars)