Invictus (PG-13) ★★★★

Hollywood Presents an Important History Lesson

Invictus above all things is ‘inspirational.’ This movie provides us with the history of South Africa in the year 1990 when Nelson Mandela came into office during a time when his nation was divided by apartheid. Clint Eastwood is the director at the helm and boasts a stellar cast. Morgan Freeman stars as Mandela and actually transforms into the leader right before our very eyes. Matt Damon portrays Francois Piennar, the rugby player/captain of the national Springboks team. Together they form an alliance to help unite the nation through the sport of rugby.

You don’t need to understand the sport of rugby to appreciate the physical strength and endurance it takes to play the game. Viewing the ‘scrum’ is enough to make anyone ‘squirm’ as pure strength and balance are needed to succeed in this match up.  The majority of the scenes in the film are focused on rugby and are expertly shot. The matches are very impressive to view.

The film has a smart script that transports us back to the day Nelson Mandela took office. He’d been jailed for 27 years and is now starting his presidency in the country that jailed him. Lines between Blacks and Whites had been clearly drawn. Mandela’s own family was not as forgiving as he was, however. Too begin his reign, he segregated his personal security team and reassured white office workers from the previous administration that they indeed had a place in his administration;  encouraging them to stay on to help unite the country.

Another decision that comes before Mandela is the possible elimination of the Springbok rugby team. Mandela knows that this would be comparable to getting rid of the Cubs in Chicago, an action that would further divide the nation. He keeps the national team and decides to confer with the captain (Damon). He inspires the coach and they begin to have regular meetings discussing rugby and politics.

Mandela spoke of a ‘rainbow nation’ and led by example. He worked countless hours and used every opportunity as a ‘teaching moment’ to convey his message.  He’s quoted in the film by stating, “Forgiveness liberates the soul.” Freeman’s performance is almost eerie. He looks like Mandela in every way including speech, mannerisms and hair style. It’s as if he were meant to play this gentle man who moved a nation. Freeman’s voice is my favorite, whether he’s selling luxury cars or narrating a film (“Shawshank Redemption” (1994) comes to mind), that voice resonates wisdom.

The film begins with a scene viewing the all white (one black) Springbok rugby team practicing on a well groomed field on one side of a road with a group of young Africans playing rugby on the other side on a dirt-filled, dusty open field. The contrast is instant. Our first look at Damon playing rugby is believable as he sports a blonde, highlighted short haircut and an accent that sounds a bit Australian. Nonetheless, he carries the part well. His family is portrayed as racist as they don’t trust their new black President and are openly vocal about it.

 Unbelievably, the rugby team continues to improve and eventually makes it into the playoffs for the World Cup in 1995; a remarkable feat to be sure. Mandela becomes obsessed with the notion of winning the final match of the World Cup. He works to exhaustion and inspires the captain by having the team visit the prison that held him for 27 years. We view his tiny cell and the courtyard where he split rocks day after day. These scenes were my favorite as the voice of Mandela hauntingly recites the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley as the team views the prison.

“It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.”

 Mandela continued his efforts to support the national rugby team and further inspires them by stating “We’ve come too far, this country is hungry for greatness.”

 During the World Cup match sequences, you can almost see the nation coming together as they continue to barely win each match. It’s magical to view and expertly portrayed. Eastwood’s valuable experience as a filmmaker brings the story to life and the result is spine-chilling! I’ve viewed one rugby game in my lifetime in Bermuda and have witnessed the famous ‘scrum’ first-hand. Eastwood’s camera team captures the overall portrait of the skill and determination that is needed during this unfamiliar aspect of the game.

 An Academy Award contender for sure! With names like Damon, Freeman and Eastwood you’re almost guaranteed a formula for success.

 Sarah Adamson © December 2009