Movie Review: Invictus


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**** out of *****

Making a sports movie is, at best, a break-even proposition. While there are some classic sports films — like, say Hoosiers or Field of Dreams — the genre as a whole is, more often than not, terrible (Necessary Roughness, anyone? Anyone?).

The best of the genre seek to use sports as a frame of reference, as something to bring out a larger discussion. Thankfully, Clint Eastwood’s Invictus does just that. Though it at first appears to be just another sports movie — albeit one featuring world leaders — Invictus uses its chosen sport, rugby, to highlight how a nation heals after a tragedy.

Centered on Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) and his first year as the president of South Africa, Invictus focuses strongly on rugby, but only as a means of showing how Mandela attempted to unite the clashing peoples of the post-apartheid nation.

The nation’s whites, as Mandela points out, cheer for the Springboks, South Africa’s national team.

The blacks, however, view the Springboks as a token of apartheid’s cruel reign and cheer for any team that plays against them. In an effort toward unity following his controversial election, Mandela works with team captain François Pienaar (Matt Damon) to make the Boks a truly national team and win the rugby World Cup.

The role of Mandela is one that seems almost too perfect for Freeman. He handles the pressure of the role greatly, playing the world leader with dramatic understatement — not letting Mandela’s (and perhaps his own) greatness get in the way of everyone else.

The only complaint to be levied against Invictus is that Freeman wasn’t in it more. During the Springboks journey to the site of the World Cup, they tour the Robben Island prison where Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years. Here, Pienaar sees flashes of Mandela in jail, played brilliantly by Freeman.

Eastwood veers away from his usual directorial grit and brings the beauty in Invictus. Everything in the film is crisp, showing the better side of a divided nation while still giving a nod to the darkness and tension beneath. Invictus is a film about unity — about that better side — and Eastwood does it justice.

But he doesn’t always hold back on the grit. Rugby, after all, is a violent game, and the director does not shy away from that. When the game is on, the dirt and blood fly. Quick cuts and blurring shots add the frenetic pace of the game to the film.

Invictus, by its end, does everything a great sports film should and does it well. With stunning performances by Freeman and Damon and fantastic directing by Eastwood, the film not only shows the powerful story of South Africa, but brings moviegoers together as well.

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