Clint Eastwood knows how to make a classically crafted film and in the last few years he has perfected his sense of timing. We are in the midst of award season and again Eastwood is prepared to make his presence felt with his new, factually based film Invictus starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The film is a hybrid biopic and sports movie, revealing the inspiring story of South African president Nelson Mandela’s attempt to unite his country through the power of a rugby team during the 1995 world cup. Can you hear the applause already?
The audience is engulfed in the social and political climate immediately. Upon his release from prison, Mandela (Freeman), is celebrated by poor black children while just across the road rich white rugby youths jeer the approach of a new era. The damaging effects of apartheid are constantly being referenced throughout the film and the focus of the first half is the mending of these social relationships for the newly elected president Mandela. Freeman takes on his role admirably, exhibiting the determination of Mandela to create a new nation.
In one such scene, Freeman speaks to the national sports commission, urging them to keep the original name of the rugby team, a name associated with the apartheid era, in order to show the forgiveness and acceptance of all citizens. As expected, many people look at Mandela as naïve and not revolutionary in his approach, but his passionate stance is explained through a verse of a poem that gave him strength during incarceration. Freeman’s voice-over softly, yet powerfully states “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul”. The actor’s voice has become synonymous with narration and serves the recounting of Mandela’s past and poetic verses very well.
Damon’s performance as Francois Pienaar is very well executed for how little character depth is achieved. He plays the captain of the Springbok rugby team and becomes a catalyst for Mandela, inspiring his team and eventually the new South Africa. Matt Damon’s scenes are well executed, but short and you can tell he performed to the best of his ability with what he was given. The second half of the film readjusts the focus to the world cup competition, taking great chunks of time out of this portion. Eastwood carefully films this gameplay, making sure to reiterate the importance of the national unity through expansive shots of the diverse crowd supporting the team. It becomes a little clichéd at times with inspirational musical interludes and sports sequences, but it is still entertaining. Some of the best scenes are between the two leaders, each actor doing credible interpretations of the real-life interactions.
With such amazing directorial work in his canon, it seems difficult to swallow Eastwood’s Invictus as just a good film. But that’s just it; it’s a good inspirational biopic/sports movie. Although it falls into some predictably cliché moments, they are easy to forgive due to the entertainment value.
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