Review: Invictus (2009)

Invictus (2009)

Directed by: Clint Eastwood | 134 minutes | drama, biography, sports | Actors: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Julian Lewis Jones, Adjoa Andoh, Marguerite Wheatley, Leleti Khumalo, Patrick Lyster, Penny Downie, Sibongile Nojila, Bonnie Henna, Shakes Myeko, Louis Minnaar, Danny Keogh Dan Robbertse, Robin Smith, David Dukas, Grant Swanby, Josias Moleele, Langley Kirkwood, Robert Hobbs, Melusi Yeni, Vuyo Dabula, Daniel Hadebe, Jodi Botha, Henie Bosman, Refiloe Mpakanyane, Jakkie Groenewald, Zak Feaunati

Clint Eastwood proves with ‘Invictus’ that you can still have plenty of ambitions when you are almost eighty years old. With his thirty-third feature film, Clint kills three birds with one stone: the film is sports drama, biographical sketch and plea for forgiveness. Eastwood previously enjoyed artistic success with a sports drama (“Million Dollar Baby”) and a film about forgiveness (“Unforgiven”); add actors like Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman and ‘Invictus’ seems impossible to miss.

He doesn’t miss out, but ‘Invictus’ is not a highlight in Eastwood’s oeuvre. As a biographical sketch of Nelson Mandela, the film lacks nuance. The South African phenomenon is portrayed here as a semi-saint, who unites an entire country with a combination of modesty, persuasion and wisdom. You have to hear from a side character that Mandela also has weaknesses, you can’t see it. Don’t believe either. The character lacks individual traits and walks around more as an ideal of enlightened leadership than as a flesh-and-blood human being.

The plea for forgiveness doesn’t work either. In the far too explanatory first half hour we are told what is going on in South Africa, but we do not feel the pain and anger of the oppressed part of the population. Because we don’t see the misery. That sport has a conciliatory effect is convincingly portrayed, with Mandela’s racially mixed bodyguard serving as a pars pro toto for the South African population.

Fortunately, ‘Invictus’ does qualify as a true sports drama. We fully sympathize with the South African rugby team of 1995 and the bumpy road to a possible world title. The images of preparation, competitions and the terrifying New Zealand haka are great to enjoy. Although individual players hardly come to life, as a viewer you fully empathize with the team. It is therefore not advisable to google in advance for the outcome of the championship.

This means that ‘Invictus’ has not yet become the film it could have been. It’s an optimistic, slightly naive hymn to rugby, forgiveness and Mandela, interspersed with humor and gooey sentiment. A predictable but entertaining film, at times leaning towards Disney’s family drama. Remarkable that the man from ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘Mystic River’ would be so soft in his old age. And that’s an observation, not a criticism.

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