Review: Invictus

A story of one of the boldest public relations moves in history.  Morgan Freeman gives the performance he was born to play in a movie that is captivating, both historically and in the narrative.

Most sports movies are about redemption, whether it’s an aging athlete trying to be relevant again, a team trying to prove itself or a coach showing us his vision of what makes a championship team.  This movie is none of that.  But it is a sports movie.  It is a story about healing (yeah I said it).  And it is an amazing historical snap shot of a country trying to come to grips with its past while forging ahead to a bright future.

Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) has just been elected as the President of South Africa, this follows 46 years of national apartheid and 27 years of Mandela’s time in jail.  The country is divided…and that’s putting it mildly.  Against the recommendations of his advisors, Mandela puts the hopes and tolerance of his country in the national rugby team, led by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), and their chances of winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup.  Oh, and the team is not only wearing the colours of the previous apartheid regime, but they actually can’t play very well.  Can’t say Mandela wasn’t ballsy.  (I said Mandela and ballsy in the same sentence…awesome).

Sure Matt Damon is in this but it’s really the Mandela/Freeman show.  Freeman is so perfectly cast; you couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the former president.  Hell, if they did a movie on Morgan Freeman’s life, Nelson Mandela would probably play him.  The quiet dignity.  The strong character.  The powerful resolve.  Mix and match your thesaurus words with your adjectives and you have some sense of how easily this performance is suited for Freeman.

You can look at this movie two ways.  In its historical context or as a public relations exercise.  Either way, it works.  This little known story really brings a sense of the divide between the black and white populations of South Africa.  Obviously this is an issue that is far deeper and varied than one movie can cover so Clint Eastwood (director man) focuses the country’s perspective through the world of rugby lens.  The whites support the white rugby team, the blacks support whomever they are playing against.  Tough job getting both sides on the same side…but then, who doesn’t like to rally behind a sports team?  If only the Canucks could unify us…or win a playoff game…at all.

This is a very good movie.  The acting is fantastic.  Direction is straightforward with some great rugby action near the end.   And the emotion is there.  “Invictus” is a short poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley. The title is Latin for “unconquered”. Mandela had this on the wall of his jail cell.  TAKE THAT EMOTION!

Oh and Matt Damon’s in this too.  Beyond taking his shirt off, playing some rugby and nailing the accent, there wasn’t much for him here but he’s just fine.

 3 stars– good movie, take a friend. If you like sports movies, if you like Morgan Freeman movies, if you like historical movies, if you like true story movies….blah blah blah, this is your movie.Sure it’s a renter but everything is better in the theatre.

Randomly Recommended
Bronco Billy (1980) – Director, producer, songwriter, composer, delicatessen owner, Maytag repair man…there’s not much Clint Eastwood can’t do.  And one of the things he’s really good at is playing a character that is from another time.  In Bronco Billy, a movie he’s often quoted as saying it’s his personal favourite of his movies, Clint plays a old west carnival show performer who’s the master of a dying art.  Clint likes it, so should you.

The Power of One (1992) – Another South African story starring Morgan Freeman.  This is set in the 30s and 40s as apartheid is forced on the nation.  Also, starring Stephen Dorff and Daniel Craig (his first movie), I was really impressed when this first came out and it holds up over time.

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  1. Although I always enjoy Russel’s review’s I do believe he is one ticket off on this one. If we are going to rate the movie strictly based on a historical perspective, sure the movie i am sure was for the most part very accurate.

    However, when I watch sports movies, especially one like this one with so much hype and political and social ramifications, I would hope after paying $11 and stuffing my face full of popcorn and soda, I would at least at some point be more encompassed in feeling like this is a moment/event that should move me, which it did not. For instance Rudy or Hoosiers, those are arguably the best sport stories of all time, both also being a true story like Invictus, and to be duely noted I cannot help but shed a tear anytime I watch either of those movies, because i feel a real part of the emotion of overcoming adversity and many other guys can attest to that.

    Invictis tried to do this and move you but simply could not. It all happened to fast in the movie, a few bad loses, a few charity events and now you can beat the All Blacks, I dont think so. Alot more goes into that hard work and I don’t think you can show that because they threw their post game beers at the wall or lifted weights once. I think the music was off, and if you think you can move someone but showing the crowd a bunch of times cheering does not cut it. You have to feel like you are one of the characters, or at least feel for what they are trying to accomplish.

    Sure maybe I can’t really understand what these people went through with the Apartheid and being from South Africa at that time, since we are all lucky being from Canada, but that is the whole point. The movie had so much to work with and scenes like when they were in Nelson Mandela’s old prison cell, he should of made a speech or something, something to move his team and he did not.

    I will give credit where it is due, I think obviously the casting for the part of Mandela was a perfect role for Freeman, and Matt Damon is always good, however; there were times where both their accents went back to their normal voices we are all accustomed. Although, doing a South African accent is alot harder than making fun of those Aussies. Also, as for the action of the rugby was also very good and well thought out as it really did seem like they were playing a big rugby game, but that is only one aspect of the movie. Yes we know it is a huge Rugby Cup win for the country, but there was so much more riding on this game, that although the scene with the little african boy listening to the white people on the radio was cute, there is alot more instances that would move people aside from that attempt.

    Furthermore, I guess i just expected alot more from Clint Eastwood, he has made so many great movies (Mystic River/Gran Turino as my favorites) but this one fell short. Now this being my first review I am going to come across as very negative but i want to thank Russel for not listening to me and making me write a comment because I feel like i got this off my chest. I am also amazed when a movie like this gets such good rating, maybe to sell tickets or maybe because of the cast, but when it is all said and done, this is a movie that you can rent when your other choices are not in, this is not a top sports movie, it is average.


  2. Hey Russel,
    Just saw the movie…and to be honest, about halfway through I found myself dubbing it a VERY expensive Hollywood version of “Bad News Bears”, or “Mighty Ducks”. You get the picture. Not much going on there, other than Morgan Freeman, whose always great. And of course, the “hook”, Mandela’s story.

    Ultimately, a cash grab. “Hey, lets make a movie about Nelson Mandela…yeah, sounds good! Oh, and lets cast Freeman…yeah, even better. Wait. We need someone else. mmmm??? Oh, I know! Let’s get Matt, everyone loves Matt.”
    (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

    I’m with you, Evan. One ticket.


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