PLOT: When Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa, he faced a massive battle. He must try and bring a torn and angry country together. One which has been destroyed by apartheid and bigotry. Mandela soon finds a connection between his own struggle, and the hardships faced by the South African rugby union team, the Springboks. He arranges a meeting with the teams coach, and ask if he could lead his team to the Rugby World Cup victory.
REVIEW: Invictus, a poem by William Ernest Henley is the title of Clint Eastwoods latest. The poem tells us that I am a master of my own fate. I am the captain of my soul. and it also represents the extreme struggle that Nelson Mandela faced when he was elected President of South Africa. The film explores his first term in office and his attempts to bring the country together. With apartheid and the vicious hate it leaves, there is a struggle as he attempts to unite those who do not wish to be united. His plan also happens to include the South African rugby union team, the Springboks. As the country divides, he finds that much of that division is clear during the rugby games, but if he could somehow inspire them to win the Rugby World Cup, it may motivate the citizens to band together.
This slow moving film explores the connection that the teams coach, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) makes with Mandela (Morgan Freeman). The way the President begins working to bring all races together, becomes a powerful example to Pienaar as to how to fight to bring his team to victory. The idea of these two men coming together, is not necessarily explored as much as I would have liked. Both Freeman and Damon are good in the roles, and truly one of the best scenes includes the two having tea together and talking about a poem (guess which one). It is a terrific moment that couldve lead to a more interesting story. But as the film progresses and as the team gets better and better, the film itself loses some of its inspiration. While it is certainly well-directed, something seems a little flat. The rugby games offer some excitement, but not enough to make this a great film. A decent film? Sure. But great? Not so much.
As far as great goes, is there ever a time when Morgan Freeman isnt just that? This is certainly no exception. His Mandela is absolutely charming and therefore, when the film is about him, it is near terrific. He looks and feels the part, and he really shines here. I believed every word he spoke and every gesture he made. Sure, the film really is about the power of a team coming together, and thus, uniting a country, but when Freemans Mandela takes the center stage, it is very strong. As he cheers for the team, alive in the stands, he becomes this character. From his voice to his mannerisms, he was the only choice. Even the simple moments as he walks onto the rugby field smiling and waving as a shower of boos mixed with slight cheers rain down upon him, he is perfect.
Even Matt Damon is very good as Pienaar. While he may not look like the man that much, he does a fine job, dialect and all. And the work that Damon and Freeman do together makes up for much of the slow and sometimes tedious fare. All the pieces were there to make something great, yet something else was missing, something that couldve made for a great film. Too many times, the story seemed to lag and not necessarily follow through with the promise of the story. It was also a little strange when the musical montages kicked in (yes there are more than one). It didnt really fit in with the rest of the film. It might have been more fitting in something like VARSITY BLUES or Gossip Girl but not in a film directed by Mr. Eastwood.
Even though INVICTUS didnt shine as much as I had hoped it would, there were several moments that did. Even those that didnt involve a discussion between Pienaar and Mandela. One pivotal scene with the team visiting a very poor village was especially sweet. It was truly one of the best scenes involving the team itself. Sometimes it felt as if there should have been two different movies here. A sports movie and a political one. But it focuses on both, and never really lives up to the promise of what could have been. It is certainly well done, and had its heart in the right place, and I even somewhat enjoyed the experience. As fantastic of a director Mr. Eastwood is, this time around wasnt nearly as awe-inspiring as youd expect it to be. It may not be Clints best, but it is still a serviceable attempt at a couple of gold statues come Oscar time. I just hoped for a little bit better than serviceable.
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