Drama (133 min.)
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Invictus is the Latin for word for unconquerable,undefeated, invincible. In Clint Eastwood's latest film he uses rugbyas a metaphor for the struggle of South Africa's first black president,Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), to unite his racially divided country.A sociology professor I had once gave a fascinating lecture onobsessive sports fans. He said that people love sports because they canvicariously get to see a conflict resolved. In real life conflicts tendto resist resolution.
Eastwood seems to innately understand this.
A Nelson Mandela film starring Morgan Freeman has been anon-starter for many years. It took Hollywood heavyweight Eastwood tomake it happen. It is noteworthy that the film was released inPresident Barack Obama's first year. The first black American presidentalso faces a deeply divided nation and constant verbal assaults. Invictus does not draw these connections explicitly. The best films never need to.
In a time when 3-D special effects films dominate the box office, it's nice to know films like Invictus arestill made. Instead of flashy technique, Eastwood employs solidstorytelling and intelligent dialogue to carry its message. MorganFreeman delivers profound, thought-provoking statements. The actorbecomes the statesman so completely that by the end of the film I wassure I was seeing the real Mandela.
Invictus is set in 1995 South Africa. Mandela has takenoffice after being released from more than 27 years in prison. He hasthe enormous task of repairing the harm done to South Africa afterdecades of apartheid, white supremacist rule. When South Africa isselected to host the Rugby World Cup, Mandela senses an opportunity.The South African rugby team, called the Springboks, is beloved by thewhite Afrikaners and generally hated by the blacks. The blacks whoelected Mandela expect him to abolish the Springboks and start a newteam. But Mandela refuses. He believes that a Springbok win will proveto the world, and most importantly to South Africa's white population,that his country is capable of forgiveness and greatness. To achievethis lofty (and unlikely) goal, Mandela enlists the aid of theSpringbok's Captain, Francois Pienarr (Matt Damon). Pienarr is a man offew words - a foil to Mandela, the great orator. But every line Damondelivers is done with purpose and propels the story forward. Damon doesa brilliant job of showing his character change, eventually coming torespect and revere Mandela.
Eastwood's previous films are often about revenge. From his Man with No Name westerns, Dirty Harry films through Unforgiven and Gran Torino, retaliation is a central theme. But Invictusis centered on Mandela's passion to unite his country throughforgiveness, the "anti-revenge." That doesn't mean that vengeance anddanger aren't lurking. Mandela's bodyguards provide much suspense andheartfelt humor. Black and white bodyguards must now work together.This is a problem at first, and I like the way Eastwood uses theirevolving relationships as a microcosm for the country as a whole.
My only problem is that the film begins as a fascinatingbiography, but morphs into an underdog-must-win sports film. As theteam battles for victory in the last third of the film, all I wantedwas more Mandela. But if Mandela can forgive those who tortured him for27 years, I can forgive this small flaw in an otherwise superb film.