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Monday, December 14, 2009

Invictus (2009) - Drama

Invictus (2009) - The story of how Nelson Mandela embraced the South African Rugby team in their quest for the 1995 World Cup Championship. Clint Eastwood directed this story of how this great leader took the mostly white supported S.A. Springboks team, and made them a national focal point in South African reconciliation. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela as a wise patriarch teaching the youngsters around him in the art of forgiveness. Matt Damon is Francois Pienaar the captain of the team who is called on by Mandela to lead the underdog team through the competition. Damon's role seemed not particularly important in the movie, I mean I see how we are suppose to see his change of opinion of Mandela, but there is so little interaction between the two that it was hard to see this internal change take place. I think there could have been more overt racism on the team and it would have helped this task, instead we have complaining about doing rugby clinics and resistance to learning the new national anthem and that is it. In fact even the most racist character, Peinaar's father really pulled it insulting punches. It was like the movie was very conscious not to be a movie about racism.
Writer Anthony Peckham gives us a standard sports story of the Springboks fighting through and winning the 1995 Rugby World cup, but the slim screenplay whether cut later or designed this way barely focuses on the journey of the team but more on the strategy of Mandela. The team's story is the secondary story and is regulated to some fine slow motion rugby play and of course the big win against the heavily favored New Zealand team. I understand this decision and truly appreciate Mandela as a leader. As it was so well pointed out in expository dialog, the idea was not to take away the white minorities team but to embrace them as a majority. Mandela saw supporting the minority as vitally important in holding the country together in the post Apartheid world.

What I liked about this movie is the focus on Mandela, the man is a great leader in our time and the movie shows this. Through this story we see his greatness, how he is thinking in a different way than many people in his country and it really carries a wisdom, earned through 27 years as a political prisoner. The Rugby scenes were well done and you get a sense at what the game is about.

On the other side I was put off at times by the sappy music. It was a bit much. There was to be a parallel story between the teams journey and Mandela's agenda but I think it ended up being more about the man and less about the team. There were several places where I wondered whether things were cut. Mandela gives Pienaar the poem Invictus and tells him about how it helped him in his years in prison, then Pienaar talks about how on the bus to the games the guys are in their heads and then they play a song or something to get ready for the coming battle. It felt like they were leading us to a reading of the poem before the big game but nothing ever materialized. There were some scenes that touched upon Mandela's family conflict but they were just brushes with his family through his relationship with his daughter. His estranged wife was mentioned but not included and there was no follow through on the theme. I am not sure there are any Oscars in this film, but it has good entertainment value.

Overall the movie was entertaining and pleasing to watch. Spoiler South Africa did win the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and Mandela did indeed embrace the team. The story told here is decent if not fully realized. Go see for yourself.

Rating (7.5)


Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may beFor my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

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