Tuesday, January 8, 2013


(December 2009, U.S.)

Clint Eastwood's directed INVICTUS is not exactly the film to watch if you have a special interest in the life of South African militant anti-apartheid activist and politician Nelson Mandela. It's not going to even scratch the surface of the real man's life and struggle. This film is a biographical sports drama based on the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted in that country following the dismantling of apartheid. According to the story, Mandela took advantage of the World Cup as a means to bring ALL South Africans together as one glorified nation. The title INVICTUS may be translated from the Latin as "undefeated" or "unconquered", and is the title of a poem by English poet William Ernest Henley.

As Nelson Mandela, this is probably no one in Hollywood today who could have played him better than Morgan Freeman. Watch him and you'll likely agree that he nails the man's characteristics, both physical and emotional, with startling accuracy. Matt Damon as François Pienaar, captain of the Springboks rugby team is not just playing a role here, but seems genuinely passionate and enthusiastic of the challenge he's taking on not just as a sport role model, but as a shining example of peace and tolerance through the game he clearly loves to play. The improbable and unexpected final victory in the end is not just for the professional sports team, but a celebration for all South Africans.

INVICTUS has wonderful screen moments evoking great emotion. Besides the traditional sports finale, I would call particular attention to when the black and white members of the presidential security detail, men who would clearly love to kill each other at the beginning of their detail together, inevitably learn to agree with the excruciating difficulty of having to serve together to protect their man. There's also another moment when François is shown inside the prison cell where Mandela was held for those long years on Robben Island. When he stands there and spreads both his arms out to get a feel of just how confined Mandela's life in that cell was, you can sense his empathy for a man he never knew before, the suffering he must have endured and the great faith he (Mandela) had for his rendezvous with history.

As a director, I've often stated that Clint Eastwood films are hit and miss with me. Some work and some don't. INVICTUS is, happily, a shining example of the power of professional sport competition and their enduring effect on the people that treasure it. Recalling a personal memory of similar sorts, I'll never forget the New York Yankees playing in the World Series of 2001 just after the events of September 11th. Never before had New Yorkers NEEDED their sports heroes to achieve victory following great tragedy. The Yankees lost the Series, but it was comforting, just for a time, for our heroes to come out swinging!

By the way, this was the last film my wife and I saw together (just the two of us) before I made the committment to never again go to the movies for myself (going with my son to a kiddie movie is another matter entirely) due to the intolerable stupidity and inconsideration of other people in the theater! Kill them all!!!

Favorite line or dialogue:

François Pienaar (to his rugby teammates): "Heads up! Look in my eyes! Do you hear? Listen to your country! Seven minutes! Seven minutes! Defense, defense, defense! This is it! This is our destiny!"

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