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Freeman is great. Rugby scenes are dull.
Reviewed by Robert Alstead
Saturday, 13 November 2010 - 7:37pm
The political drama behind Clint Eastwood's feel-good movie, based on a true story, works well. It recalls how Nelson Mandela (captured well by Morgan Freeman) used the Rugby World Cup finals in South Africa to pull together his "rainbow nation".
Rugby was largely the preserve of white South Africans during apartheid. We learn that non-whites during Apartheid, would support any team but those in the South African green and gold.
So it was with some surprise that, when he was elected President, Mandela took such a key role and personal interest in promoting the South African rugby team. However, while aides and bodyguards smarted at the idea of working with what they considered their old oppressors, Mandela understood that this was necessary as part of the process of reconciliation. He understood how sport could draw a nation together, especially if South Africa as the World Cup's host nation did well.
The script drops some clunkers of lines every now and then, but it does a reasonable job of showing tensions in the new South Africa. It also appears to be fairly loyal to the true story which is a big plus (the locker room dialogue appears to have been sanitised somewhat, but then this is a Hollywood movie).
I found it quite enlightening. For example, I didn't realise that South African captain Francois Pienaar (played ably by Matt Damon), was taken into Mandela's confidence, and that he played such a pivotal political role.
The problem arises with the rugby. I enjoy watching a good game of rugby, but Eastwood chose to faithfully recreate the highlights of key games on the field, using real rugby players.
Perhaps inevitably, what you get is something that lacks the intensity and speed of the original (video: highlights of 1995 Ruby World Cup Final), something that no amount of slo-mo can hide. The script demands quite a few scenes of rugby being played, but because the recreations are pretty lumbering and staged, the dramatic momentum falls off, especially when you probably know who will win.
It was also not the most exciting final for neutrals. What I remember most from that World Cup was how Jonah Lomu (played here by a retired Samoan player Zak Feaunati) destroyed England in the semi-finals. The final was less dramatic.
That said, it's worth seeing for Morgan Freeman's performance as a most credible Mandela and as an insight into that period of South African history.
Tackles well a crucial period in SA history
Reviewed by Matthew Arnoldi
Sunday, 24 January 2010 - 11:19am
Invictus is a recreation of the 1995 South African world cup triumph based on the book 'Playing The Enemy' by John Carlin, showing how what might have seemed like an unlikely alliance between new South African president Nelson Mandela and South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar helped to solve a problem of growing racial unease in post-Apartheid South Africa.
The film opens with Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) taking office for the first time and gives an interesting insight into the initial trials he had to withstand purely in taking office. Addressing the staff of the previous residential regime for instance, Nelson Mandela was quick to try to ensure that there was no racial discrimination and that staff knew he bore no grudges towards white staff who had worked for President de Klerk.
Mandela perceives that the white minority could become persecuted by the greater black majority, unless he can seek to bring about a new policy of peace and reconciliation.
He correctly perceives that the Springboks rugby team must retain their identity in colours previously hated by the blacks during the Apartheid regime because otherwise the whites will feel their culture and identity from traditions gone by will be seriously threatened and violence might result.
Similarly Mandela can see that a nation enjoying sporting success is going to be a more socially cohesive nation united by a form of harmony that can smooth crucial tensions. To that end, he invites rugby captain Francois Pienaar (played by Matt Damon) to tea at his presidential offices, when the national rugby team is at a low ebb on the eve of the 1995 World Cup, hoping he can inspire Pienaar to greater things.
During the course of the discussion, Mandela tells Pienaar about a poem 'Invictus' by William Ernest Henley, which represents a triumph in a struggle over adversity. Its a poem Mandela used as a source of inspiration when he was incarcerated for decades on Robben Island.
Thus begins a unique bond between the two men and Eastwood's film then follows the exploits of the South African rugby team as they strive to achieve against the odds in the World Cup. Standing in their way, are fine rugby teams including England, France, Ireland, and the much-favoured All Blacks.
Invictus was shot entirely in and around Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa, and Eastwood uses many of the crew he normally works with including director of photography Tom Stern.
The film works on many levels. It offers an interesting insight into the early Presidential considerations of Mandela -and after you initially find it difficult to see a well known actor like Morgan Freeman playing such an iconic figure as Nelson Mandela, you not only get used to Freeman but crucially sympathise with the struggles he is facing as President.
Matt Damon beefs up well to play muscular rugby captain Pienaar. Pienaar is bigger in real life, but you gradually get used to Damon playing him.
An interesting sub-plot shows Mandela's personal protection team made up of black bodyguards and white SAS operatives who had worked for the previous regime, having to work together from an uneasy 'chalk and cheese' truce formed in the initial days after Mandela took office.
Does the film work ? Largely yes. It has a feelgood edge but is based on a book which in itself is based on the facts as they happened in the World Cup and the film sticks faithfully to the book and to the facts. Its strongest asset is that you get to spend nearly two hours in the company of a great man, namely Mandela, and his comments and judgements on all matters is a joy to experience.
The film is not quite so strong in its depiction of rugby scenes since the film asks actors to play out real-life rugby scenes and whilst Eastwood tries to make these scenes as real as possible, it still comes across at times as a group of actors trying to masquerade as rugby players and looks like the kind of rugby I knew as a schoolboy playing on grammar school pitches decades ago. It did leave me to wonder if Eastwood should have made greater use of real-life footage interspersing it with the fictional recreations off the pitch.
Eastwood shows the real-life rugby players and scenes on the pitch in stills shown over the final credits and its worthwhile enjoying them whilst they're up on screen.
To Eastwood's credit, the scenes in the Rugby 1995 World Cup Final are faithful to what really happened, in terms of the points scored and the crucial kicks and movements as they took place on the pitch. Comments between Pienaar and Mandela afterwards are also creditably faithful to the facts.
Overall, this is a worthwile effort showing how sport is able to play its part in bringing about the unifying of a nation and the underlying images of racial harmony on the streets of post-apartheid South Africa in the latter part of the film, are a real joy to behold.