Clint Eastwood's Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela's attempt to unite apartheid-torn South Africa by having the national rugby team, the Springboks, win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Morgan Freeman stars as Nelson Mandela, and his intense preparation gives us a nearly perfect rendering of the man on celluloid. Matt Damon plays Rugby Captain Francois Pienaar, who is tasked with carrying out Mandela's challenge.
The film is a rather by-the-numbers inspirational sports movie, but instead of a personal or team victory hanging in the balance, it is the future of a nation. Mandela realizes that the all-white Springboks, who are hated by the blacks of South Africa to the point where the crowds cheer for opponents, are the key to bringing the segregated nation together. This makes for an interesting premise, and rightly so, due to the fact that it's a true story, but it doesn't make for the most riveting of sports dramas.
Because the winning of the World Cup is really only icing on the cake compared to bringing the country together, once the latter happens, the final victory becomes superfluous. The climax of the film, while played out in a very slick, very loud way, feels more like it's running in place because the victory has already been accomplished. There's no real tension because the goal has been achieved, and the audience is left to wonder why the film is even bothering to go the extra mile to show us the game in such detail, especially because the mechanics of the sport are pretty much glossed over.
Let's be honest, most Americans have no idea how to play rugby. For all they know, it could be soccer. Most American football movies don't bother to instruct us as to how the game is played either, but because of our foundation in the sport, the climactic battles for pigskin still dazzle us. Drop us into a rugby match and we're a little clueless. Still, Eastwood's point seems to be that the game isn't what matters, we're here to see the human story unfold.
So, why then does the "victory" of the blacks cheering for the white team they used to hate occur before this climactic battle? Well, that's history, and sometimes history doesn't make for the most thrilling of movies. Still, it's nice to see the country cheering together at the World Cup game, and even sweeter that they take the trophy home.
All in all, Invictus is adeptly made, with Morgan Freeman's portrayal of Mandela being a striking likeness. Seeing as how Mandela himself chose Freeman to portray him, it couldn't have been anything less than stellar. Damon is less interesting as Pienaar, but let's face it: there's a reason most everyone has heard of Nelson Mandela, yet when you say "Francois Pienaar", you get crickets.
At the end of the day, I can see this being a film that divides people. I expect a lot of Oscar buzz, based on the subject matter and Freeman's performance, but I also can see a lot of detractors saying that the movie is lacking in other areas. It's not that it's poorly-written, acted or directed, it's just that it's a little too cookie-cutter for its own good, especially considering the highly unique premise.