Monday, 18 January 2010
FILM REVIEW: INVICTUS
It's somewhat of a cliché, and a corny one at that, but sport really is a unifying force. Whether it's a weekend sporting fixture between amateurs, the Melbourne Cup or the Olympics Games, very few things can bring together people from varying backgrounds like the shared thrill of the game.
Nelson Mandela understood this and early in his presidency of post-apartheid South Africa he seized on the nation's hosting of the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a chance to unite his country. Not so easy given that black South Africans preferred soccer and despised the Springboks, the national rugby team, as a symbol of the old white guard. Factor in the Springboks poor form and an audience of a billion people watching the new South Africa, and Mandela was likely on a hiding to nothing.
But if history, and Hollywood, has taught us anything it is that truth is often stranger than fiction. Even those who know a little of sport know how this story ends but it still has you thinking “you couldn't have made that up”. Just like a black man spending 24 years in prison as an enemy of the state only to be released and become that country's first black president.
Clint Eastwood's Invictus opens with Mandela (Morgan Freeman) newly in office and well aware of the monumental tasks ahead of him, racial co-existence if not harmony foremost among them. He soon hits on the idea of the Rugby World Cup and enlists Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar (a buffed-up Matt Damon), to aid in his cause.
Surprisingly, Eastwood's handling of the drama inherent in the politics is not as surefooted as his handling of the rugby. Helping out immensely is the presence of Freeman. Destined to play the role of Nelson Mandela, and there have been several attempted projects over the years, Freeman has seemingly been rehearsing for the role since The Shawshank Redemption (1994). And even if he doesn't appear as joyful as I thought Mandela would be, and his accent tends to waver, Freeman has the gravitas and charm to pull it off. Like Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon (2007), it's an embodiment of the character rather than an impersonation.
Rugby aficionados may quibble about the accuracy of the game's depiction, and All Black fans will be further disgruntled by a complete omission of the food poisoning incident, but for me (a non rugby fan) the film really kicks off once the World Cup does.
And overall the film succeeds, even if it is equally as hokey as it is genuinely stirring. Case in point: during Pienaar's visit to the former prisoner's famed cell on Robben Island, Mandela recites a poem in voice-over; Freeman's voice an echoey whisper more akin to the narrator of the The Lovely Bones.
“I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul”, he says, and you can't help but be moved by the thought of Nelson Mandela, alone so long in his tiny cell, patiently awaiting his moment in the sun. Despite the on-field exploits of the Springboks, it is Mandela who is a true hero.