Tuesday, July 06, 2010


More important than just a mere game

By Edward Copeland
Sports movies so often wind up with the cliched climax of "the big game," that they can prove exhausting. However, more than a score was at stake in the true story behind Clint Eastwood's Invictus that it makes an American wistful for some nonpolitical event that could unite U.S. citizens and allow them to put aside their differences the way a rugby team did for South Africa.

Invictus tells the true story of how Nelson Mandela (Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman) attempted to unite South Africa following his election as president in its first free election in which all races were allowed to participate. Racial tensions still simmered, from the once-in-control minority whites concerned they'd be targeted for revenge to the majority blacks who wanted to seek that vengeance. Mandela wanted to avoid all that by finding something that the entire nation could get behind and he did that with the country's rugby team.

Many of Mandela's advisers think that the president is a little off, interrupting important meetings on substantive matters to follow the progress of the rugby team, but eventually they realize, as does Francois Pienaar (Oscar nominee Matt Damon), the team's captain, that the team is a vehicle for healing the nation's wounds.

Eastwood's film drags on a bit too long, but the inside political details provide far more interest than the rugby games themselves. After having watched the film, I really don't have that much more knowledge about how rugby is played than I did before the movie started.

What really holds the film together is Freeman's performance as Mandela. His savvy charm as the former prisoner turned leader of a nation rouses what might otherwise have been a moribund affair.

Invictus succeeds at telling a bit of history that was new to me. Most of all, as I said in the beginning, it made me long for some sort of nonpartisan, unifying force that Americans could find to put all this nonsensical bickering behind us and have us come together again — in a positive way, not because of a collective sense of tragedy — and stop the seemingly endless namecalling and opposition for opposition's sake.

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Freeman is certainly fine here, though that's not much of a surprise. I honestly think, though, that Matt Damon has been a bit underrated for his performance in Invictus as Francois Pienaar. Compared to Mandela, Pienaar, as the character's written, actually has an arc—he develops an awareness of his own nation's wounds, and eventually becomes engaged in the game as something more than just a major rugby contest—and Damon manages to register this growing awareness with a graceful subtlety that is, at times, quite moving.

But you're right, Ed, that the political details of the film are far more compelling than the sports-movie stuff (which Eastwood shoots in a proficient but uninspired manner).
I probably did downplay Damon a bit just so I could have the review up for today, but you are quite right about his performance.
Once again, it's my desire to have the freshest copy I can up each day, and I rushed to use it in hopes of not further depleting my backup supplies in case some of my contributors come through with reviews of some of the new releases I can't get out to see.
It's all good, Ed. Just felt Damon's performance should get a shout-out, is all.
Hey Ed, what happened to you following my blog? ;))
I don't know. I never un-followed it. Facebook and Blogger have both been acting so strangely lately, who knows?
I can tell you you that 'Invictus' was entertaining, inspiring and enjoyable which exceeded all my expectations. :)
I thought this superb film had the feel of an intimate epic & I just really, really enjoyed it. Eastwood is a sensational storyteller. There's a precision & clarity about his directing that is a joy to watch. I also thought Freeman & Damon were both terrific & like the film quite understated in their performances. Invictus also seemed expertly paced. There were no slow scenes or longeurs. It might not be full of action but the themes being explored mean it's a consistently interesting & often stirring account of the black majority & the white minority taking that first crucial step together. IOne of the best films of 2009 IMO.
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