Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Year: 2009
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

I managed to catch Invictus, Clint Eastwood's latest directorial work this past weekend. For those of you following the Oscars, you'd know that lead actors Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon both received nominations for their performances here.

Invictus is a true story set in South Africa, which focuses on Nelson Mandela and his efforts to unite a nation after years of apartheid rule. The film begins with his release from prison and subsequently becoming South Africa's first black leader.

After taking office, he realises that his toughest task is getting the blacks and whites of his country to get along. He senses this not only amongst his staff, but also at a rugby match between his country's Springboks and the English team. Because the Springboks are mostly white, the black African fans cheer for England.

After the Springboks lose badly, the National Sports Council move to replace the team with a pro-black set of players. Mandela steps in and pleads them to not change things and let the Springboks continue. Mandela believes this move will help the white community learn to cooperate with the blacks for the sake of unity.

But how can he inspire the failing rugby team to improve their game? Mandela takes an extra interest in the sport and meets up with the team captain, Francois Pienaar. He encourages Pienaar to bring the team back to glory as the Rugby World Cup, which is being held in their country, approaches.

Eastwood's movies have always been character driven, and he uses the characters to tell the story, frame by frame, step by step. It is the same here, as Freeman and Damon drive the story about two men and their efforts to bring a fragile nation together by using a sport popularised by white folks.

Nelson Mandela himself stated that only Freeman can play him in a movie, and indeed it is true. I don't know much about Mandela's actual character, but I can tell you that Freeman is perfect for this role. Anyone who plays an icon like Mandela needs to have screen presence, and Freeman has it. Every word, every gesture is gentle yet persuasive, and by listening to Freeman speak, you'd want to hear more of what he has to say. He gives Mandela that sense of bravado and generosity, in scenes where he convinces his staff to work together despite their differences or how his decision is ultimately right even if it is unpopular.

Damon gives good support as Pienaar, who ably leads his team to victory, even when his mates are reluctant to go that extra mile. Damon had to train in rugby for his role, and it's good to note that it paid off. He may not look big enough, but he sure can play.

The title comes from the Latin word for 'invincible' and is also the title for a poem from which Mandela quotes in the film. The moral of this story is simple: nothing is impossible.

A nicely made story on Mandela and how he used rugby to lead his country to unity. (4/5)

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