Invictus had the
potential to be completely unbearable - movie going as a homework assignment
- so it is a pleasant surprise that it is actually rather effectively made
historical drama that only comes apart in its overly-padded sporting finale.
It is based upon recent
history, the rise of South African President Nelson Mandela - who survived
27 years in prison only to become instrumental in ending apartheid in his
Mandela is a fascinating
character in modern history and certainly worthy of a film. Yet,
Invictus does not so much delve into the hardships and suffering he went
through to completely change South African life. Instead it focuses on
one of his more whimsical triumphs - though politically and sociologically
important, no doubt - Mandela's determination to keep the peace in his
country by backing the local rugby team to win the 1995 World Cup.
The Springboks were mostly
white (only one player was black) and symbolized oppression to Mandela's
black followers. Yet Mandela realized that if he followed their lead
and closed down the team, white South Africa - which was already concerned
about the changes in their homeland and loved their team - would be lost
Therefore Mandela decided
to throw himself behind the rugby team - a team that he cheered against in
prison just to annoy the guards. He met with the white captain of the
team - who despite being a huge sports star apparently still lived with his
parents - and told him how important it would be to their people if the
consistently mediocre team would win the international World Cup title.
With the backing of the President and the people, the Springboks pull
themselves up and start to play well.
Thus, in certain ways, in
this movie Mandela is demoted from crusading political force to being first
fan of the local ball team.
It is the old problem of a
film about a vital black hero being shown through the eyes and hard work of
a white person who helped him - like Stephen Biko in Cry Freedom or
Medgar Evers in The Ghosts of Mississippi.
Another concern was the
fact that this film was directed by Clint Eastwood - a wonderful filmmaker
but honestly one who doesn't exactly have a light touch - especially in
historical dramas like The Flags of Our Fathers.
Finally, it is a sports
film about rugby. While I'm sure it is a wonderful game, as an
American, I have very little understanding of the ins and outs of the sport
- beyond the fact that it is vaguely like American football.
Throughout the film in the game scenes, I was rather lost. The only
way I could tell whether the good guys were winning or losing was through
the reactions of the crowds.
Like I said, potential for
Yet, Invictus turns
out to be a very stirring, well-made film.
A huge part of its power
stems from the spot-on casting of Morgan Freeman as Mandela. Freeman
is able to project the gravity, the goodness and the intelligence of the man
with ease. Like the man himself to the South African people, Freeman
is able to make the story seem as important as the consequences - not merely
of the storyline itself.
The film paints a vivid -
if not completely unique - picture of South Africa in the days after
apartheid, the political and emotional turmoil of a country in deep need of
Too bad it ends on a way
too long (and literally slow-motion) rugby match. This may have been a
symbolic victory for Mandela and his government, however Invictus
would have been even better had it focused on the concrete changes the man
made rather than the more frivolous ones.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: May 17, 2010.