Monday, December 14, 2009



It's difficult to believe that after twenty years, INVICTUS is the first Hollywood film about Nelson Mandela. I dare say it won't be the last as it doesn't spend too long focusing on the true determination of his story. The story doesn't get too far into his imprisonment. We know that he was a detainee, but we're never given a clear picture as to why. Likewise, we don't see too much of Mandela trying to govern his newly reunited nation. Instead the film focuses on his efforts to inspire the rugby team to greatness. This aspect of Mandela's presidency is a detail even the film rolls its eyes at, which is a rare bit of cinematic honesty.

Eastwood's direction seems to get complacent at times. There is at least one horrible music cue that completely jars you out of the film's journey. It feels like a smack to the head reminding us that what we're watching is important. In addition, this must have been Clint's first time using a crane camera. There's no other explanation for the vast number of sweeping aerial shots of the stadium and the crowd. Hey Clint, I'm invested in what's going on in the game, not in getting a great view of everyone at the game.

These missteps hold the film back from becoming something truly great. And they are somewhat compounded by the unlikely and cliché trajectory of the Springboks' World Cup run. However, one cannot fault the movie too much for such a David & Goliath narrative since events really did play out that way. While South Africa would continue struggling to heal, grow, and prosper after the 1995 World Cup run, it did nonetheless inspire the feeling of national jubilation and unity depicted onscreen.

Make no mistake: this is very much a rugby film, but the rugby plays a big part in the larger story at hand. Mandela inherited a mess, not the least messy part of which was a lingering race division. What Mandela understood quite early on and what INVICTUS wants to remind us of is that sports can unite. What INVICTUS does best is take Mandela's rugby obsession and show us how astute a move it actually was to use the 1995 rugby World Cup win as a symbol of national unity. The film illustrates how even if it's only for a short while, national sports can both take our attention away from the problem at hand and renew our inspiration to solve it.


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