Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Invictus 2009

When this movie was released I missed it for some reason, I was able to catch in Mexico City two weeks ago. I have to confess my soft spot for films that tell stories about sports and competition, stories of triumph of the spirit. Plus, I have always considered Matt Damon a good actor that gets better as he gains more experience. The film tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.

Morgan Freeman looks the part of Mandela, but the transformation into the halting-voiced leader of a nation is never quite complete. Such is the problem with much of this movie, filled with many moments that really work, struggling against heavy moments that do not. Director Clint Eastwood doesn't exactly have a light touch when it comes to portray race relations, so the Mandela portion of this film often features scenes so transparent way too nice and sweet, he may as well step on the screen and proclaim "Why can’t we all get along?" The rugby portion of the story, it is very classic narrative about an underdog team rising from the top, and the movie does a great job reverting into the typical formats of how these sports movies develop spectacle and emotion. 

The remarkable true story behind Invictus is properly told, and with a position that makes all the stakes clear. Given the fact that the basic beats of the plot are part of the historical record, most directors would have thrown in some extra elements, characters, twists or turns, to make the experience more interesting. Eastwood respects the plot and goes along with the story at his own pace, offering up both tensions among the Springboks and among Mandela's mixed-race bodyguard unit as if we couldn’t predict that everyone, black and white, will be united when the Springboks win in the end.

As for the character of Pineaar, he seems very stiff and unclear at times, we don’t get why he was truly motivated to "win the game". How did he himself really feel about apartheid? Does he believe in Mandela's crazy notion about rugby as a national unifier? It's not that Matt Damon doesn't try, but he's given so few lines of dialogue that we're never even given the chance to find out. Check it out! 

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