Invictus (Clint Eastwood) 2009

I guess to get right to the point; Invictus is just like any standard inspirational sports movie of the past few years.  If you have seen Miracle, Remember the Titans, We are Marshall, Invincible, etc. then you’ve seen this movie.  Now I will say the scope of this movie is a little bigger than the other movies.  Invictus is about Nelson Mandela who is just becoming President and having to deal with strong lingering race issues.  Mandela became personally involved with getting the country’s Rugby team to the World Cup to kind of rally everyone under a common goal and to bridge the gap between the races.  The captain of the team Pierre is played by Matt Damon.

There are several issues with this story though.  The rugby scenes aren’t all that interesting and they make no attempt at explaining it.  In fact, there is a running joke that even Mandela’s personal guard have no f*cking idea what is going on in the game or if what is happening is a good thing.  There is no attempt at even explaining any of the rules which makes the climactic game almost a confusing mess.  I’ll admit my rugby ignorance brought on by my American upbringing but even I was watching the last game and saw them kicking what seemed to be field goals and thinking to myself “Wait, they can do that!?  They didn’t tell me they could kick the ball and score it.”  And no, this is not a request for people to tell me the rules of rugby or say its better than baseball or football or whatever.  I’m really not all that interested.  But even the playing scenes which should be very action oriented are not well shot and not all that interesting.  I think even for Rugby fans the final game would be rather underwhelming cinematically speaking.

The story, for being a Clint Eastwood movie, is surprisingly stock and bland.  As I said this is every stock inspirational sports movie.  A bad news bear like team of losers unite under an inspirational leader and make the impossible journey to the finals against the eeeeeevvil bad ass team (in this case New Zealand).  Along the way, the team learns that judging people by their skin color is not really a good thing and be better people.  We don’t really learn about Mandela’s presidency or his decisions.  In fact, another joke is that people will come to Mandela with issues and he will be like “Uh huh, who do they play next in the World Cup?”  And maybe it’s my personal grinchiness coming through, but it takes away from all the feel good message when you realize South Africa basically swapped political aparteid for economic apartied.  While the black majority may have won some small battles, the white minority still owns all the wealth and jobs and the blacks are even more destitute than before.

And NO, I do not want to discuss international politics or economics in relation to South Africa or the rest of the world and if you do you shall be banished to the Blaghole!  I’m just saying the situation is not as rose colored as the movie paints.

What ultimately kills this movie is there are no real characters to follow.  Mandela is played well by Freeman, but he is such a saintly figure we really don’t see him as a person.  We just see him as a guy who gives inspirational tidbits to people and a quote machine.  Even though we follow Pierre around for the majority of the movie (and Damon also does a great job, especially with the accent) we don’t learn much about him either.  His role is also to give inspirational speeches and to talk about how brave Mandela was for surviving over 20 years in prison.  We don’t learn about him as a person and he does not grow at all during the course of the movie.

Invictus is not a BAD movie.  If you do go in for all these inspirational “real life” sports movies then you will get some enjoyment out of it.  It is just very by the numbers.  And I actually won’t flip all the blame on Eastwood for this one.  From what I heard, Freeman had this as a passion project for several years and basically asked Clint to do this as a favor.  So I can understand Clint not having his A game for a movie he didn’t originally intend to do.

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