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“Invictus" - {Blu-ray} - (Chris)
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Warner
Release Date:
Special Features:

Vision, Courage and Honor- Behind-The-Scenes /BD-Live/ Behind the Story/ The Eastwood Factor


I suppose a film about Nelson Mandela and his attempts to reunify South Africa is expected to include a number of unsubtle and unoriginal racial themes, namely the literal and symbolic divisions between blacks and whites. "Invictus" is such a film. Consider a brief but effective shot in which we see Mandela standing in front of his bathroom mirror, getting ready to shave; the entire bottom half of his face is coated in white shaving cream while the top half is uncovered. Also consider the opening scene, which takes place on February 11, 1990, the date Mandela was released from prison; two soccer fields are separated by a road, and one of them is bright green and populated by affluent white kids while the other is patchy, brown, and populated by poor black kids. There are also many shots of white rooms with dark furniture, which may or may not symbolize Mandela's hope for a peaceful coexistence.***

While nowhere near as compelling as his 2008 masterpieces "Changeling" and "Gran Torino," "Invictus" is still a fine example of Eastwood's affinity for strong stories with equally strong characters, who in this case are drawn from actual historical figures. He relies once again on Morgan Freeman, and while that may seem like a cliché casting choice, there's no denying that he was the perfect person to portray Mandela; he not only looks the part, he flawlessly captures his distinct voice and style of delivery. Have you ever heard him speak? He can almost always get a point across, not through actions but simply through deliberate speaking, as if to suggest that serious thought must go into every word before opening your mouth. Listen to one of his speeches on YouTube and you'll know what I'm talking about.***

The film focuses on one of Mandela's more unorthodox strategies for rebuilding a peaceful and democratic South Africa: Getting the people to support their national Rugby team, the Springboks, before playing in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Up until then, the Springboks were unanimously hated, mostly because they continued to wear jerseys of green and gold, the colors of apartheid. Many people wanted not only to change the jersey colors, but also to change the name of the team. Mandela, in a move initially resisted, urged his people to leave the name and the colors unchanged, believing that an overhaul of this sort would separate the black and white populations even further. This isn't about petty revenge, he assures, but about moving forward. "This Rugby," his personal assistant asks, "as a political calculation?" Mandela asserts, "It is a human calculation."***

As part of this act of social reform, Mandela personally appeals to the captain of the Springboks, Francois Piennar (Matt Damon), who initially seems cool on the whole race issue until he's shown the prison cell Mandela was locked in; cramped and lacking both a decent view and a basic bed, he stands there envisioning Mandela's harsh living conditions and has his quiet yet powerful transformative moment: "I was thinking how a man could spend thirty years in prison and come out and forgive the men who did it to him." Indeed, Mandela practices forgiveness at its highest level, almost to the point where you're not sure he's in touch with reality. Most of us, I suspect, will probably never understand or even want to understand what he went through.***

All of this is well done. Still, one can't help but be somewhat critical of the film's formulaic structure, where overt political and social commentaries are abundant and in service of the final match between the Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks, a team so fierce no other Rugby-playing country has ever been able to defeat them. If you know your history, you already know who wins the game. Even if you don't know your history, the outcome isn't too far removed from those seen in your average inspirational sports movies. Was there no way for Eastwood and writer Anthony Peckham to go for something subtler? It's hard to say, but I'd wager that much of this material has been dramatized for the sake of appealing to the movie masses.***

Still, you have to give everyone involved credit for crafting an entertaining drama. And I admit that obvious representations of racial prejudice are more effective than metaphors, like those seen in the well intentioned but unsuccessful science fiction fable "District 9." What we get from "Invictus" is no more or less than a feel-good story, which I know is something we all want to see from time to time. It helps that the characters are strong and the performances are good; one of Eastwood's strengths as a director is his ability to emotionally develop the key figures of a story, which could not be done without capable actors like Freeman and Damon.

Special Features:

Vision, Courage and Honor- Behind-The-Scenes /BD-Live/ Behind the Story/ The Eastwood Factor/Invictus Music Trailer

Final Words:

No, this movie doesn't reach the same level of excellence as "Changeling" or "Gran Torino." But at least it gets the job done, and for that, I'm grateful.***


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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