Release Date (UK) – 5 February
Certificate (UK) – 12A
Country – USA
Director – Clint Eastwood
Runtime – 134 mins
Starring – Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
It was Morgan Freeman who originated the idea for Invictus, after reading John Carlins book Playing the Enemy. He bought the rights and then persuaded Eastwood to direct. Whilst the story is a heartwarming and involving tale Eastwood’s recreation is simply a poor version falling down at the main hurdle of storytelling. The plot revolves around the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which was held in South Africa. It follows Morgan Freeman as the legendary Nelson Mandela, trying to break down the racial barriers in his country by uniting blacsk and whites through their rugby team the Springboks, a mainly white team that black South Africans all previously hated due to their colour. Matt Damon stars as Francois Pienaar, the Springboks captain who was urged on and inspired by Mandela to take his team to victory.
Unfortunately plot and drama is created where it shouldn’t and its hard to grasp the narrative at all as it isn’t explained or mentioned throughout what stage of the world cup the team are on. More importantly, and this was not just me as I spoke to others afterwards, unless you already knew that the rugby world cup final was against the New Zealand team the All Blacks then you will assume this improtant match is simply a semi as nobody once uses the word final and it was only as more and more screen time was devoted to this match that I came to realise that this is perhaps the final, and it was only confirmed when a screen at the match announces the cup winners.
Clint Eastwood is aiming at heavy themes of unity and racial divides, wishing once more for Oscar glory perhaps and the films tagword is definitely ‘inspiration’. However the fact that the film is so poorly structured won’t give many people much inspiration. Nevertheless, the acting performances are fine – although Damon as Pienaar has more screen time playing rugby then any real dialogue filled scenes. He is surprisingly convincing as a rugby player, the rugby scenes all look real and the likeliness to Pienaar is very well done – see my Invictus Premiere report for a photo of the two side by side. The slow motion shots of the games alongside slowed down sound effects of bone crunching are a bit too repeated – reminding me of last years The Wrestler. Also, the rules of rugby are never actually explained which is a bit surprising as the majority of the films audience will be found in the non rugby playing nation of America, but presumable the star cast was thought to be enough to bring in an audience that don’t follow the sport.
The best part of the film is the comedic humour that comes from Mandela’s security officers– he forces two black and white hostile teams to unite and work for him together. Their initial hatred and mutual distrust followed by final team unity both create some nice moments of comedy and also echoes the films themes of South African unity. However, unfortunately Eastwood decided to try and add on a dramatic overtones to the security teams scenes, repeatedly building up tension by creating fears of assassination attempts on Mandela. In a fiction film this would work well but as this is based on real life everyone know it never happened so these scenes become anti climatic.
Its good to see South Africa featuring in Hollywood screens, especially when issues of the apartheid are addressed so openly and although Invictus is not a bad film the poor structure lets down a film which could have been a masterpiece for years to come. If you’re a rugby fan then its not to be missed and although I’m sure it will do well with other audiences its certainly not going to be the best quality film you could see with so many other great Oscar contenders on release currently.