Movies: Invictus

…directed by Clint Eastwood, written by Anthony Peckham and John Carlin, starring Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Jason Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng.  Invictus is a good movie about a great man.  It details Nelson Mandela’s early years as president of post-apartheid South Africa against the backdrop of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.  As the preferred sport of the Afrikaaners, the Springboks (South Africa’s national rugby team) were beloved to the white minority.  This same minority that had just lost power after ruling the country for hundreds of years.  Many in Mandela’s ruling ANC party wanted to do away with the Springboks entirely – with their colors, their name, the team.  Yet Mandela recognized how powerful this team was a symbol to the whites, many of whom the country needed to function and survive.

As for the rugby team themselves; the Springboks had just re-entered international competition after a decades-long ban due to apartheid and were set to host the next World Cup.  They were a good not great team, and certainly not a favorite.  But Mandela also recognized that the tournament would be broadcast worldwide and was not only a great international PR event, but the chance to begin to heal some of the wounds in his own country.  Enter Francois Pienaar (Damon) the Captain of the Springboks.  In the sports-movie portion of this film, Pienaar, after visits with Mandela, realizes how important the tournament could be to his country and sets about inspiring his teammates even as he himself is inspired by Mandela.  It’s pretty inspirational.

It’s a classic underdog story and you’ve seen it before, but maybe you don’t know much about South Africa and Nelson Mandela.  Maybe you doubt whether poetry, redemption, and kindness can still inspire great deeds and acts of kindness.  If so, you should see Invictus. People talk about how few good movies there are that are also positive without coming off as pandering, and this one fits that bill.  And the rugby’s pretty cool too (truly a sport for men – large angry men).

Eastwood provides a supporting cast to interact with Freeman’s Mandela to show the audience not only the difficulty Mandela faced, but how he built consensus and attempted to place his country on the right path.  These include the presidential body guards, the Springboks, and some township kids who start to embrace rugby.  The cinematography and music are both first-rate, as are performances by Freeman, Damon, and the other actors (many of whom are African and Europeans).  If I had one criticism it would be that Eastwood seems to keep some of the more personal moments and emotions at arms length – and yet he does include scenes to show Mandela as more than a symbol, as a man struggling with the burden of leadership.  Still, it’s a good film about one of the 20th Century’s great leaders and definitely worth your time.

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