Adapted from the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, by journalist John Carlin, Invictus (Latin for unconquered) is a stirring examination of the relationship between sport and politics.
Ultra-prolific director Clint Eastwood hits a dramatic crescendo with this tightly focused bio-pic. Delivering a detailed account of one of the 20th century's most significant political figures, Nelson Mandela and his brave attempt to unite the fractured South African nation under one despised emblem, the Springbok rugby team. "One Team, One Country"
The larger story of Mandela, a man, whom after 30 years of incarceration becomes South Africa's first democratically elected president, is truly heroic.
However, Eastwood's adaptation of murky cinematography, distractingly out-of-place music, painfully long production, exaggerated fortune cookie-style wisdoms and a sense of clumsy self-importance is unashamedly orchestrated for Oscar contention.
"I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul"
In his first historic term as President, Mandela (Morgan Freeman) faces the tensions and divisions of his post apartheid nation, where his people; the "rainbow nation", is made up of whites and blacks equally suspicious of one another.
Mandela, who survived a 27 year incarceration by clinging to the spiritual messages of William Earnest Henley's poem Invictus, believes tolerance and acceptance is the only way to break the racial and economical divide between his "family" of 42 million.
Starting with his own presidential cabinet and security staff, Mandela pronounces "The Rainbow Nation Starts here ... reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here, too." inviting the previously white dominated office to stay and be part of his mixed solution.
After receiving news that the black despised/white beloved rugby team, the Springboks are to be unlawfully disbanded, Mandela believes he must find a way to "juggle black aspirations with white fears" and embarks on a PR campaign of "human calculations" to unite South Africa through the universal language of sport.
Making this his mission, Mandela bestows his philosophy of leadership on Springboks captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) "We need inspiration: we must exceed our own expectations". Acting as a driving force, Mandela personally inspires the underdog team as they strive to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Freeman's calm and measured portrayal as Mandela is a flawless characterisation. Instantly apparent, the time spent on the little things like facial gestures, body movement, speech patters and accent, he delivers an astoundingly good performance.
The Increasingly versatile Damon has beefed up and sports a new messy bleach blonde do to fit the role. However, sadly he literally butchers the Afrikaans accent and can not convincingly hold a rugby ball.
Not in the same league as his other work, Eastwood's remarkably low key and unassuming filming style leaves this unabashed Oscar contender lacking depth. Doing little justice to such a beautiful story, the not-so-worldly-played sport is simply too dominant over the film and should have taken more of a back seat.
In saying that, there are some genuinely touching and authentic moments, mostly evident by the secondary actors. For instance, when Mandela's personal guards and ex-Apartheid Special Branch men relax with each other and play an impromptu game, and when the team heads out to remote communities and teaches soccer-fan children how to play the game.
The Verdict: Invictus isn't terrible, it's just ordinary, and considering the credentials behind its making, it is a major disappointment. Often coming across as more of a sermon than a story, this overstated, preachy and bland tale is less than compelling.
Published: The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication: 29/01/2010