I confess to being, at least partially, an ignorant American. I don’t know as much about the outside world as I should. And yet, I’d bet I know more than the average person, so I wonder how much appeal “Invictus” will have to them. It’s an obscurely-titled movie about South African politics and rugby. None of these things scream blockbuster hit.
Which is too bad because “Invictus” is one of the best movies of the year. I’m pretty stunned at how Clint Eastwood has added “brilliant director” to his resume of tough-guy acting. The movie is about the time shortly after Nelson Mandela was first elected President of South Africa. I don’t know his backstory, and I don’t know much about his personal life. The movie is not a biography. It just shows a short time in his life, enough to show what KIND of man he is. All we are given is the basic setup of a racially divided country, unease over the first black president, and the conviction Mandela has to do his job right. And that’s all we need.
The plot revolves around Mandela’s use of the national rugby team to unite the citizens to see they’re all one country, more the same than different. The problem is that the team isn’t very good. In fact, the team is a representation of white rule, and Mandela has to manage the unthinkable task of getting his millions of black countrymen to rally around a team they’ve spent their life hating.
What’s great about Morgan Freeman’s depiction of Mandela is how he always tries to do the right thing, even against his advisors’ opinions…and he seems to always end up right. He’s wise in how to treat people, and canny enough to know not only what the initial reactions of people will be, but what the reactions to THOSE reactions will be. He’s playing chess with people, but not talking down to them. If the real Mandela is remotely like the character I saw, then holy cow, what an incredible person. All the aspects of Mandela’s political life and adjustment to leading a country are very interesting.
The other main part, about the rugby team (Matt Damon is the captain) is good, but not AS good as Freeman’s part. The sports scenes are well done, but the only problem here is that as an inspirational sports movie, you pretty much know what happens. You know they’re going to start winning. I do think they improve a bit too quickly to be believable, but hey, it’s true, so maybe the movie amped up the “transformation” for dramatic effect. And I certainly wish I understood the rugby rules better, but that’s my problem, not the movie’s.
The movie did leave me wanting more. I would like know more about Mandela—his past and future. I would have liked to understand some of the South African terms and rugby rules better. I would have liked to find out what kind of effect the experience had on the rugby captain and players. None of these things were what the movie is about though. If I want to learn more, I need to find those out on my own. “Invictus” has a different goal, and it succeeds easily. I just hope regular moviegoers take a chance on it and go see it. For what it’s worth, you do find out what ‘Invictus’ means.