Invictus (2009) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Invictus (2009)

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Andrew DISLIKEIf Invictus is any indication of what it is like to run South Africa - my days would be filled with fretting about sports, complementing various women and holding myself up with a contractually obligated sense of dignity.  Apparently the country just runs itself with little actual input from its President.  The perpetual motion machine that was "government" just needed a slight push from Mandella to get on the road to recovery.  Somehow, this feels a little less than accurate.

Invictus is the latest self important, high gloss bore from Clint Eastwood.  We see as Nelson Mandella (Morgan Freeman) is released from his 27 years of imprisonment and is elected to the Presidency of South Africa.  In an attempt to unite the country together in post-apartheid times he encourages the rugby team led by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to capture the World Cup in rugby for the country.  According to Mandella, this will give the country the necessary start to healing still fresh wounds.

Mandella’s story is one that has cemented its place in history, and he is a true testament to how one human’s life can affect so many.  This was most definitely not the movie it needed to be told in.  Ever since his one-two success of Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood’s films have become increasingly sour pills to swallow.  So convinced they are of their importance in portraying events of historical note that they leave nothing to interpretation or sensation.  At least in those earlier films of the decade we had strong stories, excellent acting, and a stunning shot or two to carry memories of the film beyond their running time.

There is no such luck with Invictus.  There are only a handful of memorable images (none of which directly involving Mandella) and the score is a crime against subtlety in how it is handled.  There is hardly an emotional shift that goes by without some strangely patriotic tune signaling how you need to feel at this scene.  It’s doubly odd that, despite the fact that the film obviously takes place in South Africa, the music sounds like it would be right at home next to The Star Spangled Banner.  Perhaps it’s because Clint felt it necessary to give his son Kyle the privilege of scoring his film.  This is one film that could have afforded to be a little less incestuous in its production.

Then there is very little to suggest the pressure on Mandella to deliver great leadership.  There are a couple of scenes at the beginning of the movie that call attention to his ability to lead (or lack thereof).  But Invictus isn’t concerned with asking those questions.  It’s not really concerned with asking any questions.  Very little is done to portray what the general population felt outside of a couple of isolated moments and is content being a dour retread of any number of inspirational sports movies.  In the world of Invictus, the Presidency amounts to little more than managing a rugby team.

Only a handful of moments escape with a sense of the movie it could have been.  The subplot involving Mandella’s bodyguards, black and white, coming to terms with each other is an interesting display in the lingering post-apartheid tensions in South Africa.  Their growing respect for each other, genuine anger and acceptance, and lack of soundtrack queues give these moments a life of their own away from the films constant demands of rugby.


I suppose that Morgan Freeman was born to play Nelson Mandella.  His voice carries such a natural authority and dignity that it seems criminal to give the role to anyone else.  How I wish that they had committed that crime.  Freeman’s Mandella plays like a bland retread of previous noble roles, only with an incredibly halting vocal manner that is not at all reflective of how Mandella speaks.  He has the physical presence, but has been more convincing as God than as Mandella.

Matt Damon fairs much better with the material.  He is almost unrecognizable in opening scenes as the simple, stocky Francois and continues to provide another interesting facet to the material.  There are many moments that require him to sit in silence in special regard to his surroundings, and were it not for the soundtrack and style they might have been genuinely affecting.  His Francois understands the position that he is in and does his best with the burden placed onto his shoulders.  Unfortunately his scenes are proof positive that excellent acting can’t always save a failing scene.

I am growing tired of Clint Eastwood’s movies, but his quality seems to surge forward and then suddenly recede every decade.  However, it’s unlikely he will be attempting a different approach with his next film.  Invictus earned nominations for Best Actor (Freeman) and Best Supporting Actor (Damon).  Combine that with the multiple awards and general reception it received guarantees that we’ll be getting more sterilized, weighty and boring Oscar bait from Mr. Eastwood in the future.  Hooray.

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Invictus (2009)

Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Written by Anthony Peckham.
Starring Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. The only thing I didn’t like about Invictus was its lack of special features when there was so many things I still wanted to know.
    You are jaded and unaware of it.

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