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Invictus (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 7, 2023



Starring Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Julian Lewis Jones, Adjoa Andoh, Marguerite Wheatley, Leleti Khumalo, Patrick Lyster, Penny Downie, Sibongile Nojila, Bonnie Henna, McNeil Hendricks and Scott Eastwood.

Screenplay by Anthony Peckham.

Directed by Clint Eastwood.

Distributed by Warner Bros Pictures.  134 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Invictus had the potential to be completely unbearable – movie going as a homework assignment – so it is a pleasant surprise that it is actually rather effectively made historical drama that only comes apart in its overly-padded sporting finale.

It is based upon recent history, the rise of South African President Nelson Mandela – who survived 27 years in prison only to become instrumental in ending apartheid in his home country.

Mandela is a fascinating character in modern history and certainly worthy of a film. Yet, Invictus does not so much delve into the hardships and suffering he went through to completely change South African life. Instead it focuses on one of his more whimsical triumphs – though politically and sociologically important, no doubt – Mandela’s determination to keep the peace in his country by backing the local rugby team to win the 1995 World Cup.

The Springboks were mostly white (only one player was black) and symbolized oppression to Mandela’s black followers. Yet Mandela realized that if he followed their lead and closed down the team, white South Africa – which was already concerned about the changes in their homeland and loved their team – would be lost forever.

Therefore, Mandela decided to throw himself behind the rugby team – a team that he cheered against in prison just to annoy the guards. He met with the white captain of the team – who despite being a huge sports star apparently still lived with his parents – and told him how important it would be to their people if the consistently mediocre team would win the international World Cup title. With the backing of the President and the people, the Springboks pull themselves up and start to play well.

Thus, in certain ways, in this movie Mandela is demoted from crusading political force to being first fan of the local ball team.

It is the old problem of a film about a vital black hero being shown through the eyes and hard work of a white person who helped him – like Stephen Biko in Cry Freedom or Medgar Evers in The Ghosts of Mississippi.

Another concern was the fact that this film was directed by Clint Eastwood – a wonderful filmmaker but honestly one who doesn’t exactly have a light touch – especially in historical dramas like The Flags of Our Fathers.

Finally, it is a sports film about rugby.  While I’m sure it is a wonderful game, as an American, I have very little understanding of the ins and outs of the sport – beyond the fact that it is vaguely like American football. Throughout the film in the game scenes, I was rather lost. The only way I could tell whether the good guys were winning or losing was through the reactions of the crowds.

Like I said, potential for disaster here.

Yet, Invictus turns out to be a very stirring, well-made film.

A huge part of its power stems from the spot-on casting of Morgan Freeman as Mandela. Freeman is able to project the gravity, the goodness and the intelligence of the man with ease. Like the man himself to the South African people, Freeman is able to make the story seem as important as the consequences – not merely of the storyline itself.

The film paints a vivid – if not completely unique – picture of South Africa in the days after apartheid, the political and emotional turmoil of a country in deep need of heeling.

Too bad it ends on a way too long (and literally slow-motion) rugby match. This may have been a symbolic victory for Mandela and his government, however Invictus would have been even better had it focused on the concrete changes the man made rather than the more frivolous ones.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: May 17, 2010.


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