"Invictus": Movie Review (2009)

12/17/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie Review


Directed by Clint Eastwood, written by Anthony Peckham, 134 minutes, rated PG-13.

By Christopher Smith

In Latin, the title for the new Clint Eastwood film, “Invictus,” means “invincible” or “unconquered,” which is a nice slice of symmetry since the word itself could describe Eastwood’s own career. Not many could have triumphed over those orangutan-infused “Any Which Way But Loose” movies he was saddled with in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, but Eastwood did--and in the process, he went on to become one of our most important, daring and insightful directors.

“Invictus” also is the title of a poem William Ernest Henley wrote that came to mean a great deal to Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) during his nearly three decades in prison. Anthony Peckham based his script on John Carlin’s book “Playing the Enemy,” and what each help to showcase is just how restless a mind we have in Eastwood. And just how focused.

The film opens in South Africa not long after Mandela was released from prison. A few years pass, elections are held and Mandela becomes that country’s first black president. To say the least, the time was tumultuous, but Mandela, who is masterfully played by Freeman in one of this year’s best performances, nevertheless remained steadfast in his belief about how to repair a country broken by the very apartheid that led to his own imprisonment.

His intent was the unification of all peoples--white and black--but how to do so when even his own staff questioned and resisted his ideas? For Mandela, the answer was to move forward, not to look backward, and to greet his opposition with the warmth and kindness he himself didn’t receive in that cellblock that was home for all those years.

No fool, Mandela knew kindness and broad smiles weren’t enough (are they ever in politics--or in life?), and so he looked for a hook in which all races could lose themselves and become an unknowing, cheering collective. Turns out, the key to this was the game of rugby. With the World Cup looming, Mandela hung his hopes on the Springboks, a team led by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) that was more accustomed to losing than to winning.

And yet Mandela wooed the team, which was comprised mostly of brutish white men. He got close to Francois, who was raised by a father who openly ridiculed blacks. He had tea with Francois, and shared an inspirational talk. And as Francois left this encounter--and other encounters he would share with Mandela--he became empowered to inspire his team to potential greatness as the World Cup drew near.

On paper, all of this sounds clichéd and forced, and while the movie is tainted with elements of each, the good news is that it’s overwhelmed by neither.

Since the film is based on a real event, many will know the outcome going into it, and so Eastwood, aware of this, places his focus on his characters (beyond Freeman and Damon, the movie features a terrific supporting cast), and also on the curious intricacies of rugby itself, which provides much of the action. For those who don’t recall the time in which the film takes place (mid-‘90s), adding further interest is how Eastwood draws tension from the fact that whenever Mandela appeared at a public event, which was often, there was on ongoing threat that he could be assassinated at any moment. It’s that suspense, these performances and Eastwood’s smooth handling of all of it that makes “Invictus” such a pleasant surprise.

Grade: B+

View the trailer for "Invictus" below.  Thoughts?

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  1. Bok_Supporter said...

    Has anyone seen Invictus on Facebook? There are a number of images from the 1995 World Cup finale which you can tag yourself in if you were there. Even Francois Pienaar has tagged himself! Check it out here: http://bit.ly/invictusrugby