History lesson, classic brand of entertainment and stellar performances mark the arrival of “Invictus,” a testament to the legacy inspired by the return of a native and genuine hero, Nelson Mandela.
In eons to come, I suspect there will be other movies devoted to the enduring symbol of South African freedom; nor would I be surprised if future offerings supply details that “Invictus” omits or avoids. Still, this Clint Eastwood drama captures the inherent dignity we associate with a cry for freedom and the honor we accord a man whose achievements are unparalleled in modern times.
Here, then, is a movie about Nelson Mandela, South Africa after apartheid, and, of all things, a movie centered on the sport of rugby, together with the zeal it inspires in a fractious nation. Rugby, politics and apartheid: How’s that for a movie formula, graced by the presence of Morgan Freeman and a spirited performance by Matt Damon.
The film’s title seems tacked on. It’s a reference to a popular poem of the day, whose most prominent lines read:
DIRECTED BY: Clint Eastwood
STARRING: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Langley Kirkwood and Grant Roberts
RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes
“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
Not a masterpiece
All that said, “Invictus” is far from being a glowing masterpiece. Consider it a primer, a salute to nobility, and one more reminder that Freeman is a sensitive artist adept at creating a vivid sense of character without having to shout to the rafters.
Damon plays Francois Pienaar, captain of the Springboks, whose recent 1995 loss renders the team as underdogs. The white athletes are in no mood to party, but as the movie has it, national pride usurps racial prejudice. Hail to Mandela, glory to tolerance, and hooray for indomitable team spirit and international bragging rights.
“This is the time to build our nation,” says Mandela in dulcet tones. Finally, we are treated to the finals with fans going wild, and most of us rooting for the underdogs.
I’m guessing here that the battle may not please hardened fans, even if the action seems brutal. Here, it seems, Eastwood is pulling out all the stops, so eager is he to extract dramatic action. It’s not Eastwood at his best.
But somehow, these tilts are forgivable. Give the man and his nation their due. Expose children to the sequence of unfolding events, and then, let us go on.
Reach film critic Dan DiNicola at [email protected]