Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon
I have very little time for politicians, I'm not a fan of rugby, and I know very little about South Africa. However, I do think that Clint Eastwood makes a lot of important films, and I enjoy the acting of Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. That's why I decided to watch Invictus when it was released on Blu-ray four years ago.
Mandela was occasionally in the news during my childhood, but events happening on another continent meant very little to me as a young boy. As an adult, I have come to appreciate people who sacrificed much of their lives in an attempt to change the way people think. If you connected with Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, try to imagine a similar scenario in the modern world.
Mandela campaigned against apartheid, and was imprisoned for his actions in 1963. He spent 18 of his 27 years in prison on Robben Island, where he contracted tuberculosis. As I write this review, he's in hospital with pneumonia at the age of 94.
Invictus shows some of the challenges faced by Mandela when he became South Africa's first black president in 1994. He defied expectations at every turn. An early scene gives us a clue about the man as he calls together his staff. Some of them are white, and expecting to be fired, but Mandela urges them to stay and continue to serve their country. He wants to forgive those who imprisoned him, and those who hate black South Africans. He realized that he was in a position to lead by example, and that it wasn't the time to settle old scores. Freeman's portrayal provides insight into Mandela's character, and shows us why he was loved by the people with whom he interacted.
Racism is one of the most dangerous things in existence, and I believe that it will always be with us in some form. There is no logic in hating someone because of their color or origin, but we are still surrounded by people who do just that. I think it's incredibly ignorant to continue to hold such beliefs in modern society, but I won't turn this review into a debate about racism. I mention it because it's important to frame the story, and appreciate what Mandela was trying to do.
So why is rugby an integral part of the story?
When Mandela took office, South Africa had already been chosen to host the rugby world cup a year later. Mandela decided to use the occasion to help to unite South Africans in a common cause. Rugby had always been a game revered by white South Africans, while black South Africans preferred soccer. In fact, the black population frequently cheered for whichever team was playing their national team as a form of protest. Overcoming that level of hatred proved to be quite a challenge.
Matt Damon plays South African Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar. He leads a team that is suffering from lack of belief in its own ability. There's a definite parallel between Mandela's efforts to unite the country, and Pienaar's task of uniting his team, the fans, and the media. Mandela meets him to discuss the importance of performing well in the world cup, and the two talk about leadership techniques.
Invictus is an engaging story which appeals as a historical drama more than a movie about sports. You don't need to know anything about rugby in order to appreciate the story. Eastwood has constructed a film that deals with the weighty subject matter in a way that we can all understand. Freeman was deservedly nominated for his performance, and Damon is convincing as a rugby player.
Films like this may be considered too idealistic by many, but it works for me. I realize that uniting a country is more difficult than the events portrayed on the screen over the course of two hours. What Invictus does is encourage me to think beyond my immediate surroundings, and appreciate some of the things faced by people living in other countries. It's not the best film ever made about politics or sports, but it's definitely worth your time if you want to broaden your horizons.
Overall score 4/5
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