If you’ve been following film news for any amount of time, you’ll know that Morgan Freeman has been campaigning to play Nelson Mandela for years and I can’t think of an actor that would be better suited to the character or his remarkable story. Freeman is great in INVICTUS as the iconic South African leader, bringing a sense of effortless grace and wisdom to the role that’s already difficult. We meet Mandela right after he’s elected President and must deal with the immediate issues plaguing the country, by way of their national rugby team. It’s plenty of story and drama to support an entire film, but given the wealth of possible material about Mandela’s life story and coupled with Freeman’s expert portrayal, you almost feel like this is not the nelson Mandela movie you wanted.
Matt Damon has the obvious secondary role, but brings his all, including conquering the difficult South African accent (which I can’t hear anymore without thinking about DISTRICT 9. Nelson Mandela vs. aliens…there’s a movie I’d watch.) Although physically Damon is a far cry from the enormous François Pienaar, he’s convincing enough as the heroic team captain on and off the field. But it’s on the field where I have my biggest issue with INVICTUS.
Granted, rugby is more of a plot device than the focus of the movie, but considering the important role it plays, INVICTUS doesn’t do a very good job handling the game. Eastwood breezes through each match except for the final one and never really bothers to explain even the basic rules of the sport. So if you’re not already familiar with it, there’s a decent chance you’re going to be lost or at best simply not connected to whatever action is going on in the field. There are plenty of chances for explanation, especially when Mandela himself has to learn about the game, but we don’t even get a commentator during the match to explain what is going on. And the basic filming of the game is pretty bland and unexciting. There are big stretches that are statically shot from the sidelines.
Sports issues aside, INVICTUS works as an inspirational sports story, but also as a timely film. It’s near impossible not to see the comparisons to Obama’s current situation. (Good timing, Clint!) So, Mr. President…want to fix all our problems? Easy. Just lead the U.S. to victory in the World Cup this year…in South Africa. How fitting would that be?
Mandela Meets Morgan: A fantastic video chronicling the meeting of the actor and world leader, which is pretty awe inspiring to watch. There’s also a generic bit about the casting process itself, but this half-hour extra is definitely worth watching to see Freeman interact with Mandela.
Matt Damon Plays Rugby: Pretty self explanatory and to the point. Damon meets the real life Pienaar, who helps him train to be a convincing rugby captain.
The Eastwood Factor: A nice 20 minute documentary chronicling the career and impact of the legend that is Clint Eastwood. Very well put together and presented by Time Magazine’s Richard Schickel. (If you like this, you can check out the full documentary on the new Eastwood 35 Films 35 Years box set.)
Extra Tidbit: Nelson Mandela has said that Morgan Freeman is the only actor who can ever portray him on film.