Film Review and trailer: Invictus (12a)By Kim Francis
February 10, 2010
Clint Eastwood is a living Hollywood legend. And having just been voted the United States’ favourite movie star ahead of three-times-in-a-row winner Denzel Washington in the annual Harris poll, he is one of the few people working in Hollywood able to get almost any project he's interested in off the ground.
Hence having been able to get Invictus made.
A movie about rugby that lacks a love story or any semblance of a subplot and one which is peppered with strong South African accents is not the sort of film you might imagine a US studio agreeing to make. But when pitched by Clint Eastwood, well…
Coming from the mouth of Hollywood royalty like Clint, whose recent directorial efforts Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino have been commercial and critical hits, it isn’t hard to see why this 79-year-old was trusted to make this movie – it’s all but guaranteed to put bums on seats.
In telling the story of the South African rugby team’s against-the-odds victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Invictus paints a portrait of the man who united a disparate nation and inspired a country to rally in support of its national side, The Springboks, spurring them on to win the tournament.
Morgan Freeman’s mimicry of Nelson Mandela makes for intriguing viewing. In spite of some acclaim for his attempts to capture the great man’s mannerisms and patterns of speech, his performance is distracting at times.
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Touches of humour in the script have a similar effect, adding a modicum of self-reflexivity that reminds us we are watching a dramatised version of events and that yanks us violently away from our involvement in the story.
For example, the film directly acknowledges audience reservations about Matt Damon’s somewhat unconvincing physicality – his stature is substantially slighter than the real Francois Pienaar, South Africa’s revered rugby captain.
When a security guard announces that Pienaar is much smaller in real life than he appears on television, we laugh because the film directly addresses what much of the audience is thinking.
Despite his physical limitations, Damon nevertheless puts in a sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of the South African rugby hero, making him somebody we warm to – an honourable, enthusiastic person who embraces Mandela’s leftfield ideas with fervour and conviction.
Rugby scenes may rankle with true fans of the game but they do the job of conveying
what Eastwood needs to put across – even if in the final scenes slow-motion footage is used to tiresome, almost comical effect.
In true Hollywood style, Invictus is shamelessly overly manipulative of the emotions, with montage sequences set to unsubtle, stirring music. Especially jarring is the scene in which Mandela sets down in a helicopter on the training ground to visit the players.
This isn’t to say the film isn’t touching. Indeed, it’s a feelgood reminder of a key moment in South Africa’s history and an upbeat, emotive portrait of a truly inspirational man whose incredible capacity for forgiveness and foresight made an extraordinary impact on a nation divided.