Clint Eastwood’s anti-apartheid film has little to offer other than the presence of Morgan Freeman in a role that generated some Oscar buzz. But sadly, as it is, “Invictus” is a somewhat lackluster presentation of an otherwise interesting piece of history.
I like Clint Eastwood. Who doesn’t? I will see anything the man has to offer as a filmmaker or as an actor. But I have to say that if you didn’t see “Invictus” in the theater you really didn’t miss much, and you’re probably better off saving your money on a DVD. Sadly, this Eastwood film is best suited to one of those days you just happen to catch it on cable if you bother seeing it at all. Although the film is based on a rather interesting bit of side story of the tumultuous time when Nelson Mandela was the newly elected President of South Africa and how he used the country’s underachieving Rugby team to unite the people behind a common cause, the film comes nowhere close to capturing either the spirit of the sport or the tensions of a country divided.
I don’t know if it is the script’s fault or Eastwood’s. There’s nothing wrong with the film per se; it just doesn’t draw you into understanding the great feat that was accomplished by Mandela’s bold and unusual maneuver of getting the black population to rally behind a traditionally all white sport during a time that the national team was facing the world cup as underdogs. In fact, it seems that the film relies too much on the audience already knowing what was going on in world politics at the era and how tenuous the relationship was between the public majority and the powerful minority. We are only ever given little glimpses into this situation through Mandela’s newly integrated staff (the most likeable characters in the film) and the family of the Captain of the Rugby team, played less than inspiringly by a buffed-out Matt Damon (although he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar – go figure).
Damon is supposed to represent the many Afrikaners who resent Mandela and what he stands for but who cannot help but be swayed by such an engaging and soulful man. However, the scenes between Damon and Freeman fall deadly flat, lacking any sense of synergy or poignancy. These meetings are supposedly what inspired the Captain to encourage his teammates to do their best and encouraged him to lead by example, but you wouldn’t know it by what you see or the actions that follow. It all just looks like everyone is still going through the usual paces.
A film like “Invictus” should have you standing on your feet with anticipation by the time you get to the final big game, but it failed to rouse even the slightest bit of excitement from a special pre-screening audience who really wanted to like this film. And I suppose they did. But I suspect that had a lot more to do with Eastwood as a cherished icon than anything to do with the film itself. Were it not for the revered filmmaker and his relationship with Morgan Freeman, this film would likely never been made. I’m glad that it did, and it is worth seeing if for nothing more than Morgan Freeman in a spot-on turn as one of the greatest living men of our times. But if you’re expecting anything more than that, you might as well skip it.