After seeing “Invictus,” I thought of a scene in “Barton Fink” where a greedy studio executive informs Fink his wrestling picture won’t work because the real drama takes place in the ring, not outside of it.
Somehow, “Invictus” manages to strike a rare balance of both; making the action in the story as intense on the action on the field. Then again, I expect nothing less from Clint Eastwood.
“Invictus” comes entirely from a true story. It is slightly a biopic on Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman). However, it’s not a rise and fall story of his entire life. Instead, it tells of the years when he became president of a post-Apartheid South Africa. Once Apartheid ended, all of the country’s racial tensions had not ended. To reunite the torn country, he looks for help in the most unlikely place: South Africa’s rugby team. In order to reunite the country, he befriends the team’s white captain (Matt Damon) and inspires the team to win the World Cup. Here is where sports and social conflict collide.
You could call “Invictus” a mix of two very different genres: inspiring biopic, and inspiring sports flick. It manages to be unconventional, but not necessarily groundbreaking in both. As a biopic, it manages to show its subject as an amazing person without necessarily deifying it. As a sports flick, it manages to be uplifting without being schmaltzy. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the film is directed by Eastwood.
Even at the age of 79, Eastwood remains as alive and energetic as he was at 29. Here, he shows off his talent for amazing, simple human interactions. Some philosophical life conversations that take place in the movie feel similar to those in say, “Million Dollar Baby.” Meanwhile, the brilliantly shot rugby sequences feel as engrossing and brutal as a real game of rugby. Eastwood puts in the same energy of mastering the technique of a rugby game as he did with a battle sequence in “Letters from Iwo Jima,” a boxing match in “Baby,” and a shootout between gunslingers in “Unforgiven.” Simply, this man can do anything.
Another man who can do (or in the case, play) just about anything is Freeman. He’s the first person that comes to mind when I think of a good candidate for Mandela, and here he proves why. He doesn’t just play Mandela, he is Mandela. Any person who doesn’t know a thing about Mandela will walk out of this movie understanding why this man deserves a movie. He underlines his amazing quality of forgiveness, but also his outgoing, always humorous personality. His performance goes along with the screenplay, as he plays Mandela as not just an inspiring public figure, but also a man could faint from too much work, and a man who could also have family problems.
The film’s other star, Damon, gives something of a mixed performance. While he gave a career best performance earlier this year in “The Informant!” this performance is a slightly bigger challenge, as the South African accent is a hard one to nail. Sometimes, he gets it right. Other times, it leans towards Australian with a mix of American. Damon is a talented actor, and I admire him for trying. However, his imperfect accent didn’t serve as a distraction from the film’s higher points.
“Invictus” might just be the perfect sports movie for this day and age. It’s one of those films that provides both makes you face reality, and allows you to escape it. It engrosses you in the power of the game, but it also uses the game as a way to represent South Africa’s social problems. It represents the power of something as seemingly insignificant as a sporting event as being one of the greatest uniters of all. It is also a great sports flick for the way the game is shot. Eastwood puts you inside the huddles, forcing you immediately inside the action. Meanwhile, each kickoff is incredibly suspenseful. Even if you know the outcome, you can’t help but feel like you don’t.
Only someone like Clint Eastwood could get away with showing one of the most significant turning points in modern human history through sports. Here, he has also shown his new world view, which is leaning away from the depravity of mankind and leaning toward the idea of how even one life can inspire so many. The title “Invictus” comes from a poem that Mandela read during his years in prison about man triumphing over his soul and his destiny and in the end, conquering great obstacles. “Invictus,” like Mandela himself, will inspire many, and leave no audience member unmoved. This is one of the year’s best films.
Below is a picture of the real Nelson Mandela with the real Francois Pienaar