16 December 2009

Review: "Invictus"

In the late stages of his career Clint Eastwood has focused primary on directing. While he often acts in his own films, the last film starring Clint Eastwood and directed by someone else was 1993's In The Line of Fire, and he has only been in one film, Gran Torino, since 2004. His newest film, Invictus, is based on the real events surrounding the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. The life and accomplishments of Nelson Mandela are worthy of the cinema, yet this film focuses primarily on the newly-elected president's attempts to unite South Africa through rugby. It had long been reported that Morgan Freeman wanted the chance to portray Nelson Mandela, and purchased the rights to John Carlin's book, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation before it had been published. Morgan Freeman is a terrific actor whose talents have been underused this decade (save for his incredible performance in Million Dollar Baby, coincidentally directed by Clint Eastwood). Matt Damon, whose talent as an actor I have often questioned, co-stars as Francois Pienaar, captain of the Springboks, South Africa's national rugby union team.

The film does not focus on Mandela's twenty-seven year imprisonment, but does highlight the often violent relationship between races in post-Apartheid South Africa. The beginning of the film does a beautiful job depicting the tensions between blacks and whites, especially within Mandela's own team of bodyguards. Mandela is shown to be an intelligent, compassionate and forgiving man whose only goal is to unite his entire country. With the Rugby World Cup being held in South Africa in 1995, Mandela believes that his people would best be served if the host country won the tournament. His chief of staff and his family think that he is being foolish, but he is steadfast in his beliefs. The rugby union team features only one black player, and black South Africans have always cheered against South Africa. Mandela requests that the team hold workshops across the country, and soon the entire country is embracing its national team. Nelson Mandela took a lot of risks in his attempts to achieve his goal, and will always be remembered for his accomplishments.

My problem with the film is that I felt it undervalued Nelson Mandela's accomplishments. He is a remarkable man and should be seen as a true hero in the modern world, yet this film focuses on one single event. Invictus is beautifully shot and the rugby scenes are intense and entertaining, but I wanted to see more about the man himself. Morgan Freeman is fantastic as Nelson Mandela, but the film seems to want you to connect to the story through the sport and not through the characters. Matt Damon is unremarkable as Francois Pienaar, and I wish that a lesser-known actor had been given the role. I fear that most people will leave the theatre and think that it was just a film about rugby and not understand what Nelson Mandela was able to accomplish, and this is due to the decision to base the film entire on one event. Invictus is entertaining and well-crafted, but I do not think that it is a worthy representation of Nelson Mandela's life and I hope that one day there will be a film that does justice to his life story.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

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