Invictus – Review

A rare misfire from Clint Eastwood

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Director: Clint Eastwood
Notable Cast:
Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

There are two stories to be found in Invictus. The first is about post South African Apartheid and the presidency of Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) as he tries to heal a country ravaged by the inequalities of the past decades. The other is about Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) and the 1995 South African rugby squad that surprised the sporting world to capture Rugby’s highest honor. The problem is that 134 minutes isn’t enough to cover both in the same film, which is the inherent flaw in Invictus.

The latest opus from two time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood, the film covers the early years of Mandela’s presidency and his attempts at trying to re-introduce South Africa to the world. After years of protests and sanctions because of Apartheid, including bans from major sporting events, South Africa came back into the world trying to redeem its reputation. Enter Mandela, it’s most famous prisoner who would become its elected President, to try and redeem South Africa’s reputation and unite its masses.

It also covers the role rugby played, and the team coming back against staggering odds. Defeating the New Zealand squad which had destroyed plenty of teams going into the final, South Africa pulled off a miracle win in overtime over the All-Blacks. It was a signature moment and one of the sport’s great upsets on the international level.

The problem is that trying to cover both stories, of redemption and reunification, is worthy of two hours apiece. The story of South Africa becoming a country, as opposed to being a landmass with two different races of humans with differing agendas and motivations, is a fascinating one that deserves more time then it’s given. Certain story moments like Mandela’s personal bodyguards (a team of black and white Afrikaners) bonding over sports and learning to work with one another seems out of place in what seems like a sports movie. Moments like Pienaar giving speeches about winning the big game feel out of place in a film about politics. Eastwood reaches for a large, epic story and falls short by trying to condense it. This should be an epic three hour film about the conversion of sports and politics that would lead to a unified South Africa and instead feels condensed, searching for a story and a genre to merge two different storylines and falling way short.

It’s a shame, really, because Eastwood does his usual capable job behind the camera. Eastwood the director is a legendary figure but this won’t be amongst his more notable works. But he does bring out two terrific performances from its lead actor, bound to get nominated for an Oscar. Freeman, in a role he was born to play, is magnetic as the South African president. Using archival footage digitally altered to have Freeman in place of the real Mandela, Freeman doesn’t just give a good impression of Mandela. He embodies the man, making every moment on screen feel special. Freeman has been known for playing secondary roles better then lead ones but with his old friend Eastwood behind the camera, magic happens. Freeman carries the film on his back in only the way he can; it’s expected that he’ll be great in this role and he delivers beyond every reasonable expectation.

Invictus is a clear step down from his last several films but is still reasonable enjoyable. It just deserves to be a more epic film with a better focus.


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