- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
uch like Nelson Mandela, the subject of his latest film, Clint Eastwood never seems to stop working. Most actors and directors hang it up long before they’ve reached their 70s, but not Clint, who’s actually put out some of his best work in that time. Unfortunately, while “Invictus” is certainly representative of the quality we’re used to seeing from the four-time Oscar winner, it’s not one of his stronger films. Part of that has to do with the fact that it’s just another inspirational sports drama, because although “Invictus” is better than most films in the genre as a result of his involvement, it’s still not the kind of movie that deserves any serious awards consideration.
It’s also probably not the Nelson Mandela movie that most people were expecting, because it completely skips his 27-year imprisonment and jumps right into his appointment as the first democratically-elected president of South Africa. Coming into a nation divided by race, Mandela (Morgan Freeman) attempts to unite his country not through politics, but by convincing the people to support their national rugby team, the Springboks, as they compete for the World Cup. It’s a tall order considering how poorly the team has been playing, but after Mandela takes the team’s captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), under his wing, the team begins an unlikely winning streak that leads them to the finals against a seemingly unbeatable New Zealand side.
Though it might be considered a spoiler to say that South Africa wins, it wouldn’t make sense to make a movie about the rugby team if they didn’t – especially considering the many directions you could take with a Mandela biopic. After all, “Invictus” may be based on a bestselling book (John Carlin’s “Playing the Enemy”), but I’m willing to bet that most people never knew about Mandela’s involvement with the Springboks before this film. It ends up working in its favor as well, because it’s the kind of story that seems too good to be true, which in turn allows Eastwood to create a more lighthearted movie that isn’t afraid to show the comical side of Mandela’s prioritization of rugby over politics.
Obviously, the two weren’t as mutually exclusively as many believed, because even though the audience doesn’t get to see very much of Mandela’s political career, it’s not really necessary when you consider just how much he accomplished with rugby alone. Morgan Freeman does a fine job bringing the character to life, but his performance simply isn’t memorable enough to be rewarded. The same goes for Matt Damon, who could play Pienaar in his sleep if it weren’t for the fact that he had to feign a South African accent. Instead, the real star is Mandela himself, and Eastwood does a commendable job of injecting his spirit into the movie. Never too heavy handed in execution, “Invicitus” may not be “The Nelson Mandela Story,” but it’s still an enjoyable sports drama that succeeds because it’s actually about something worth caring about.