By Dirk Sonniksen | December 11, 2009
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer(s): Anthony Peckham (screenplay), John Carlin (book) “Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Changed a Nation”
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
Taken from the title of a poem by William Ernest Henley, Invictus (Latin for “unconquered”) follows the early days of Nelson Mandela’s presidency of South Africa and his struggle to bring a racially segregated nation together. Upon entering office, Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is drawn to the athletic plight of the Springboks, the South African national union rugby team. At the same time, the Springboks team captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) is searching for his own motivation for a struggling team. Brought together by a rather unlikely connection, the two men forge a friendship, and strive to bring about change amid the lingering racial unease of a new South Africa.
Invictus is a must-see history lesson for all those that were out of the loop during the end of apartheid, an archaic and brutal system that divided white and black in South Africa. Director Clint Eastwood is effective in both educating the masses and providing a reminder of past injustices at a time in the United States when such lessons are apropos. Films like Invictus are necessary historical notations that hopefully serve to actuate the importance of racial equality with younger audiences.
On the performance end, Morgan Freeman is utterly convincing as Nelson Mandela, delivering a powerful performance that is certainly Oscar-worthy. Matt Damon is solid as Francois Pienaar, proving again that he is an actor to be reckoned with. It would not be surprising to see Damon receive a supporting nod for this one, although his work in The Informant! will most certainly earn him a best actor nomination. Other noteworthy performances include Patrick Mofokeng and Julian Lewis Jones as Mandela’s feuding security detail.
While Invictus is an adequate piece of film making, it suffers from a cinematic miasma that could bring about much eye-rolling and yawning from the experienced filmgoer. In short, we’ve seen a lot of this before. The long, pained expressions while staring through windows, and the sappy musical score are moments that are meant to bring us to tears. Unfortunately, such scenes seem to only serve as filler for what could have potentially been an extraordinary movie. Eastwood had a great vision, it just fell a bit short. What makes Invictus a worthy film is an extremely strong cast and a historical element that is ripe for the time. Indeed, the message is the key to this one. Let us hope someone learns something from it.