Director: Clint Eastwood
Release Date: December 11, 2009
Running Time: 87 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 - for brief strong language
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
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A South African newspaper’s heading read “he won the election, now can he lead a country?” This unhopeful question is referring to Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), who in 1994 was elected the first black President of an apartheid stricken South Africa. After emerging 27 years from prison for political upheaval, Mr. Mandela had no inclinations to seek revenge on the white Afrikaners who placed the cuffs on him. Instead he disarms any such thought, and the film, entitled Invictus after an 1875 poem by British writer William Earnest Henley, is attracted to the passive stance which had, at its focal point, the sport of ruby.
Rugby is a primitive sport that glorifies brutality. A character in the film refers to it as a hooligans’ game. A bunch of ferocious men never hesitate to jolt another’s anatomy, leaving the victim writhing in pain on a field of grass that resembles man’s outer state; dirty, muddy, torn and worn. Each team interlocks with the other trying to move the opposition out of place so one team can snatch the ball up and progress it up-field. Despite the over-populated yelling crowd and the groans of the rugby players when their flesh smacks one another, communication is still tried amongst each team with hop of keeping order amongst each other. This does not sound so much like sport. Rather, it has characteristics that resemble wars, battles and even apartheids (split teams).
To think that 79-year-old director Clint Eastwood would see rugby as a sport would be to diminish his subtle, artful gaze that separates him from all other directors working today. Eastwood uses the entire scope of rugby as a metaphor for the struggles, beatings and uphill battles one has to conquer in order to achieve unity. Opposed to showing South Africa’s actual dysfunctional society, the carnage and unhealthy state of it, Eastwood depicts it through rugby; the main objective that Mandela used to bring a nation together.
Eastwood has a wild, yet restrained, vision to navigate intently upon a subject, furtively discerning a radiant and unexposed are of unexplored topics and spinning them to implicate something most profound. He locates a deep wound (struggles of apartheid) and tries to caress it by dissecting it, glancing at it more than once and then unhesitatingly clawing at it until peace and tranquility arise out of it.
Most Eastwood films usually pursue this form of dissection in a grim and dark fashion, wounding us by the blunt force of his direction that focuses on the stains, blotches and corruption of life (see Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby). Invictus may seem like the oddball out of all his recent masterpieces. Without a doubt the topic of Invictus is as dark and depressing as any of his recent films, but how he goes about trying to ease the tension, not dissecting it in a bleak fashion, is masterful and sublime. And it all begins with the idea of rugby (an idea of a team) caressing the wound caused by apartheid.
The rugby team of South Africa, the Springboks, was a mediocre team made up of all white players except for one black man. They still carried with them, despite Mandela’s wishes for a unified, rainbow nation, the strong sentiments of the apartheid. Their reputation amongst the black population could not be rectified because the lack of black players and the team color that signified strongly the apartheid flag of South Africa. The team captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), wants his squad to be lifted out of the ranks of mediocrity. When he gets a call, in a moving scene, from Mandela, who took note of Francois’ pride and will to win, the Springboks realize that they have the possibility to change the entire society of South Africa for the better. Damon as Pienaar is further revelation that he is emerging as one of our finest actors today. His ability to stand tall and confident while acting as an Afrikaner is testament to his passion of taking risks as an actor. The risks pay off here.
Morgan Freeman, as seen from his previous roles, has a voice and demeanor that is transient, making whatever he utters the very last world, the end all say all. His apparently luminous and God-like look bodes well in this role. When his Mandela is expected to react on a particular situation that should side him with his population (he makes sure that race isn’t prevalent in his decision making) he ends up finding influential view points with the opposing side of the white Afrikaners, literally shaking up the entire black population into a silent uproar. Mandela refuses to pander to current prejudices and popular tastes.
Freeman isn’t capable of not leaving an indelible mark upon viewers. He is an exact representation of what Mandela stands for; peace and equality. Freeman undertakes Mandela’s mannerisms, his accent and most importantly his life changing perspectives, and posits a performance that is truly touching and utterly amazing.
Invictus radiates moments of purity, but soon is plagued by the climactic rugby match which is both schematic and overdramatic. Eastwood works best in the confines of a human drama (most of the film is). He has a power of style, not in the sense of extravagance, but in the sense of simplicity. This simplicity –which resembles the effortless works of mastery by deceased Japanese director, Edward Yang – is able to amount to something wonderful; a master that has learned to master his craft to perfection.
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