**1/2 (out of 5)
December 11, 2009
Morgan Freeman as NELSON MANDELA
Matt Damon as FRANCOIS PIENAAR
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There are a few things you can expect to happen on a yearly basis… paying your taxes by April 15th, watching the insanity of Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving and Clint Eastwood releasing a movie just in time for award season.
Eastwood is hit-or-miss in this yearly tradition. “Million Dollar Baby” won the Oscar (although I didn’t think it was the best movie of the year). “Letters from Iwo Jima” was far better than “Flags of Our Fathers” and was a very intriguing film but got forgotten in the major awards. “Gran Torino” was a hoot to watch but got snubbed in the major awards. (Am I forgetting “The Changeling” from last year? Or am I just shunning it for being gratuitous Oscar bait? Only history will be the judge of that.)
This year, Eastwood has trimmed down his normal Oscar hopeful duo to a single film, and that film is “Invictus.” The story follows newly elected South African President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) as he assumes office and deals with the struggles of the now defunct Apartheid system. In the process of building a new government, Mandela takes interest in the South African rugby team and uses them as a rallying cry for a new united South Africa.
I know what you’re thinking… what the hell does South African politics have to do with rugby? I was thinking the same thing. And after seeing the movie, I am still asking myself that question.
I understand that a national sports team – especially one that wins a national or international title – can be a uniting force in a country. However, this seems to trivialize the entire triumph of Mandela’s career. I would think the same thing if fifteen years from now, Hollywood made a movie about Barack Obama’s historic election and wrapped it around a story of the Chicago Bears winning the Super Bowl.
Eastwood faces two huge problems with this film. First, the film is a stretch. Whether or not you know the historic and political context of this film, the connection is a bit much. On one hand, it’s a political story about the first black South African leader in a post-Apartheid era. Then, it turns into a sports film… and not a really good sports film as that.
Second, it’s going to beyond most of its audience… not for the political, historical and cultural angles but rather for the fact that most of the mainstream moviegoing public. I know that cinema is an international market, but the American audience has such a strong impact not just in a movie’s success but also in the major award categories. “Invictus” was like watching a movie about cricket… I just don’t have a passion or understanding of the sport, and the scenes bored me. (Hell, I had an easier time getting excited about the too-numerous Quidditch scenes in the “Harry Potter” movies.)
Ultimately, the film is well made. Like all of Eastwood’s movies, it’s competently shot and has some very good acting. However, things get really schmaltzy near the end, and without caring about the sport of rugby, I was extremely bored with the over-long and drawn-out climax of the movie.
Die-hard Clint Eastwood fans should enjoy the movie. It’s nice to see him re-team with Morgan Freeman, although Freeman’s Mandela has more of himself in the role than the historical figure he portrayal. And I just can’t watch a Matt Damon drama without having a flashback to “Team America.” Such is life in modern cinema.
I can’t say that “Invictus” is a bad movie. Far from it. But unfortunately, it’s far from a great movie as well.