June 7, 2010


Reviewer: Dylan de Thomas
Rating (out of 5): **½

I kept thinking that I should have liked Invictus more. I tallied up the points: I love sports, Clint Eastwood's directorial career has been truly surprising and interesting, I want Morgan Freeman to narrate my life, and had a Cry Freedom poster up in my bedroom in high school, such was my interest in Apartheid-era South Africa. So, it is with a heavy heart that I report to the loyal readers of Greencine Guru that Invictus is a well-intentioned, well-crafted bore.

Set at the very beginning of Nelson Mandela's presidency of South Africa, Invictus tells the story of that nation's rugby team's improbable run through the 1995 rugby world cup and Mandela's use of the national team as fulcrum for easing racial tensions and trying for reconciliation in the wake of Apartheid.

[Quick strategy overview break: The country's black majority hates the rugby team because it symbolizes the white minority's oppression of the aforementioned black majority. If Mandela can get the black majority to root with the now-fearful white minority for the Springboks rugby team = Epic Win]

Let it be said that this is a film with great ambition wanting to show a truly great man try to heal his nation and that all involved acquit themselves with aplomb; Freeman disappears into Mandela with a truly impressive, previously untapped mimicking ability, and Matt Damon (both he and Freeman were nominated for Oscars) plays the rugby team captain with a smoldering intensity -- and newly-broad shoulders.

But, ultimately, neither man is given enough to work with - overlong scenes feel cobbled together and unscripted making for a messy narrative and viewing a slog.

For instance, though the rugby scenes are shot with urgency and give a real feeling for the sheer physicality of the sport, Eastwood neglects to tell the viewer who might not know how the game is played what the heck is happening. Save for a scene where we are told that the ball can only be passed laterally or backward, nary a rule is imparted to the observers, which is to the film's great detriment.

I kept wishing for a quick scene where one of the soccer-loving, rugby-hating black bodyguards said to one of the rugby-loving, soccer-denigrating white bodyguards "Why do they all smash into one another like a great big violent group hug? What purpose does that serve? How does the ball move under there?" Instead, we're given images of rugby with no context, taking any possible tension out of the game time scenes. It's very frustrating for any of us not as familiar with the sport.

The scenes that delve into what Mandela did during and after his decades in prison are rather moving, however, especially when Freeman recites lines from the titular poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley. When Freeman reads this striking poem, it seems to offer the viewer an inspiring view inside the inner life of a man that changed so much and affected so many. It's just too bad that the film wasn't able to show us more.

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Posted by cphillips at June 7, 2010 11:20 AM
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