PG-13 for brief strong language
Drama, Adaptation, Biopic and Sports
Dec. 11, 2009
Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Julilian Lewis Jones and Bonnie Henna
Warner Bros. Pictures
Invictus: Official Web site
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By Jesse Carey
Interactive Media Producer
I was recently having a conversation with a co-worker who is not a fan of sports. He was asking me why I spend so much time and energy following my favorite teams, talking about my fantasy football games, and playing in local leagues. Along with all of the excitement, entertainment, and escapism that sports offer, I eventually told my colleague what the deep-down appeal of sports is for me—at their very best, sports are a microseism of the human struggle.
Whether it’s an intense Monday night football match-up, an underdog victory in an NCAA basketball tournament or a 7-game post-season baseball showdown, the actual games themselves are really just the surface appeal. What really matters, what keeps us watching—and more importantly—what keeps us caring, are the sub-plots. We can all relate to being outmatched, feeling that odds are insurmountable, and we all desire the feeling of camaraderie and knowing that there are people who are cheering us on as we succeed and who morn with us when we fail.
That’s why the latest film from director Clint Eastwood, Invictus, works. Based on the true story of South Africa’s hosting of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the film parallels the national team’s underdog match-ups with the rise to power of President Nelson Mandela (and his efforts to heal a nation torn part by apartheid). Though the film actually follows two intersecting plot lines (the social politics of a reformed South Africa and a rugby tournament), it’s really one story. It’s a story of overcoming odds, working together and creating a new future.
The movie begins on the day Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) is released from prison and quickly transitions to the first weeks of his presidency. As the national rugby team, The Springboks, led by captain Francois Pienaar (played by Matt Damon), struggles in the months leading up to the World Cup, we see the turbulent social implications of Mandela taking power in post-apartheid South Africa.
Though they are a favorite of South Africa’s white, formerly ruling population, to much of the black population, The Springbok rugby team is just another symbol of the ugly oppression and inequality they suffered under apartheid rule. Mandela, working to create a harmonious “rainbow nation”, believes that if he can make the team an object of national pride for all its citizens, he can unite cultures that have been torn apart by racism.
Early in the film, we see glimpses of racial tension through the relationships within Mandela’s own security staff. Forced to work together, Mandela’s security detail—consisting of both white and black officers—must overcome their own prejudices in everyday life. It’s here, when Mandela is confronted by his own head of security reluctant to work with the same people who he has suffered under for decades, that we learn the true theme of the film. “Forgiveness liberates the soul,” Mandela tells him.
As captain of the struggling Springbok team, Pienaar is summoned to meet with Mandela, who talks to him about leadership and why winning the World Cup is about so much more than just rugby. Inspired by his sense of national purpose, Pienaar rallies the team to train harder, and even go into South Africa’s slums to connect with new fans by putting on free rugby clinics. “This country's changed. We need to change as well,” he tells his teammates.
The film is inspirational, and Eastwood has become a premier director, but the Invictus isn’t without its missteps. First, it’s overly long, clocking in over two hours. Because it is based on a true story and seeks to draw such clear analogies between societal tensions and rugby, audiences can look past many of the sports clichés, but Matt Damon’s character is completely one-dimensional. Though we follow him as he rallies his team and befriends the president, his character is never really developed beyond the tough-guy-with-a-good-heart rugby player. Also, for many American audiences unfamiliar with the rules of rugby and ignorant to the nuances of the game, too much time is spent watching action we don’t really understand (especially in the third act).
Freeman delivers a moving performance as Nelson Mandela. Though, if we were just going by his dialogue, he would come across as calculating, overly-articulate and at times even saintly, Morgan brings him to life and illustrates the humanity of such a larger-than-life, heroic leader.
Despite some of the clichés, the movie is inspirational and tells a powerful story of forgiveness and reconciliation. Though the pace could be a bit quicker in spots, it’s an overall entertaining story showcasing why sports themselves are about more than just entertainment—they’re lessons about life.
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Jesse Carey is the Interactive Media Producer for CBN.com. With a background in entertainment and pop-culture writing, he offers his insight on music, movies, TV, trends and current events from a unique perspective that examines what implications the latest news has on Christians.
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