Eastwood Tackles Mandela Tackling Rugby
It really shouldn't be a surprise with Clint Eastwood behind the camera that "Invictus" is another very good movie. Eastwood manages to basically deliver two movies in one with part of "Invictus" being about the cleverness of Mandela to use the national Rugby team as a way of trying to unite a nation and the other half is that rugby team playing in the 1995 Rugby World Cup as complete outsiders to win anything. But rather than being two separate movies he manages to interweave them so that whilst the first half of "Invictus" is very much focussed on Mandela's vision for the future and the struggles he has in convincing a divided nation it manages to blend into the second half which focuses on the Rugby and embraces the underdog story. All of which with a good message, very good acting and some wonderful camera work as well as an empowering soundtrack makes "Invictus" a very good movie.
Having taken over as President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman - The Dark Knight) sees before him a nation split despite the end of apartheid. Looking for a way to unite this divided nation he decides that the national rugby team, the Springboks, would be an ideal start especially with the Rugby World Cup not long away. But with the Springbok's under performing he speaks to their captain FranÃ§ois Pienaar (Matt Damon - The Bourne Ultimatum) and together they fill this under achieving team with a sense of belief and that what they do on the Rugby field is more significant than just winning a game. Now all that stands in their way are much better Rugby teams including the dominating All Blacks.
The actual storyline to "Invictus" is adapted from John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation" and covers the period where following the end of apartheid and Mandela becoming South African President he uses the national Rugby team and the Rugby World Cup to help unite a divided nation. It is as you would expect a very powerful storyline as we follow the Springboks, the underdogs, play with pride and passion at the Rugby World Cup. But it is also the story of Mandela as his vision to use the Rugby team to unite a nation seems strange to his advisors. As such "Invictus" is almost a movie of two halves the first half focussing on Mandela as he comes to power and not only has a divided nation to deal with but also advisors to convince of his vision for a future. And then the second half which merges into this first half and becomes almost a traditional underdog story.
It has to be said that the first half of "Invictus" is eye opening stuff, especially for those who don't really know much about apartheid. We get a feel for what it was like especially when Mandela took over as President, the division between races and the fear that the past had bred into them. But at the same time it delivers a portrait of Mandela a man who after years of imprisonment put the past behind him and worked towards a future, a man who was tired but just his charisma and joy for life was and still is inspirational. As such we get to appreciate why Mandela is such a great man but also the difficulties which faced him and the South African nation following the end of apartheid.
This first half blends brilliantly with the second as Mandela's wisdom leads him to the Springboks and their captain FranÃ§ois Pienaar who he meets and inspires him as well as the team to greatness. Now it has to be said that this second half is very much a traditional underdog story as we watch the less than impressive Springboks head off to the Rugby World Cup to take on the might of much better teams including the dominant All Blacks. But whilst an underdog story it doesn't feel a cliche one full of standard underdog scenes, although the ending is shot in a great but cliche manner. Together these two halves off a movie weave together brilliantly to tell a very powerful story, an uplifting one yet also showing what life was life in South Africa in the mid 90s.
For a movie about Mandela it takes a very special actor to play the great man and you have to say that Morgan Freeman really is the only man for the job. What is so great is that Freeman doesn't try to do an imitation of Mandela rather than picking up on mannerisms and his way of speaking to convey the essence of the great man. So whilst it does occasionally feel like Freeman's accent returns to American for the most he conveys the pride, the joy and the inspirational power of Mandela which is so much better than just trying to imitate him. The same can be said of Matt Damon who whilst nowhere near the size of FranÃ§ois Pienaar manages to convey what the man was all about and as such is a convincing leader of the nation's rugby team. Plus having bulked up for the role Damon also looks pretty hand on the actual rugby field, aided by some clever camera work he looks like someone who understands the sport and what it means to so many. Yes like Freeman Damon's accent occasionally slips but it works well as do all the actors who take on various prominent roles.
What this all boils down to is that "Invictus" is a very good movie which manages to take the true story and bring it to the big screen making it entertaining without losing the message. This means that we get a glimpse of why Mandela is such an inspirational figure and how his understanding of human nature lead him to put his weight behind the national rugby team. And then we get the underdog story of the under performing Springboks and their amazing rugby campaign at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. It's not perfect but it does entertain as well as inspires.