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Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman Deliver Predictable Drama With ‘Invictus’

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Average: 3.3 (3 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Director Clint Eastwood has given up on subtlety, choosing instead to tell old-fashioned, direct stories with as much technical skill and dramatic competency as possible. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the legendary director’s “Invictus,” but it’s also not nearly as memorable or thrilling as it could have or, given the true story that it tells, should have been.

Personally, I find Eastwood the most interesting when he deals in gray moral situations like the ones at the core of “Mystic River,” “Unforgiven” or “Million Dollar Baby”. Lately, with films like “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Changeling,” “Gran Torino,” and, now, “Invictus,” there is no gray. He seems to have lost any interest at all in striking a subtle chord. Every single character development and plot turn is telegraphed in the previews and merely underlined by the film itself. It’s old-fashioned cinema and, in this case, it fits the dramatic beats more adequately than some of his recent work, but it never gets below the basic facts of what really happened to unearth the human story.

MORGAN FREEMAN as Nelson Mandela in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Spyglass Entertainment's drama
Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Warner Bros. Pictures and Spyglass Entertainments drama Invictus, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo credit: Keith Bernstein

“Invictus” opens with the release of Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) from prison and his rise to power as the leader of South Africa. When Mandela took power after the close of the apartheid era, the nation was wildly divided with may whites refusing to recognize his leadership and blacks seeking for a complete housekeeping of the country that kept them down for so long.

A symbol of the days of apartheid was the rugby team known as the Springboks. When Mandela attends a Springboks game and sees blacks rooting for their opponent, he realizes that there is political currency in this team of athletic young men. He could have (and was encouraged to) merely disband the team, but he realized that if he could get whites and blacks to cheer for them together that it would be a major step on the way towards honest unity in his country.

Mandela learns that the World Cup of rugby is to take place in South Africa in just a year and he contacts team captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to encourage him to lead his team to victory by telling him of his concept of their social importance. Of course, “we could unite our people” is a pretty good locker room speech and Pienarr uses the backing of Mandela to inspire his team to greatness. “Invictus” is a sports movie where the team has “won” more when they build a united fan base more than when what happens in the big game.

MORGAN FREEMAN as Nelson Mandela and MATT DAMON as Francois Pienaar in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Spyglass Entertainment's drama
Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar in Warner Bros. Pictures and Spyglass Entertainments drama Invictus, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo credit: Keith Bernstein

Clearly, the true story of “Invictus” has inherent dramatic power, but you already know that even just from the plot description above. You could watch any ten minutes of “Invictus” and get what you need from it. The film has almost no rising action other than curiosity as to whether or not the Springboks won it all, but, as I mentioned, that’s not really socially important. Whether or not they took home the prize isn’t really relevant to what the team meant to a country at a crossroads. While a sports movie where winning isn’t essential to success makes for a socially interesting drama, it makes for something of an inert one. This is a film that could more accurately be called “interesting” than “inspiring”.

A few individual accomplishments help the film rise above the inadequacies of the dull script including the gravity and majesty that Freeman brings to Mandela and Tom Stern’s (a regular Eastwood collaborator) notable cinematography. They’ve both worked with Eastwood before and they deliver excellent work again. Damon is less memorable but that’s a product of the character and script more than the actor’s fault.

Ultimately, satisfaction with “Invictus” comes down to expectation. Eastwood tells an interesting story with technical proficiency and there are people who go to the movies looking for a predictable story that’s merely well told. On that level, the film works as a model of old-fashioned storytelling and there’s no reason to hate it. I just wish there was more reason to love it.

‘Invictus’ stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. It was written by Anthony Peckham and directed by Clint Eastwood. It opened on December 11th, 2009. It is rated PG-13.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Anonymous's picture

Review of Invictus

Afternoon Brian
I have read several reviews of the movie, and having watched it myself yesterday, thank you for yours. Let me start by saying that I loved the film and will ensure I purchase the DVD on it’s release. So why the difference in our reviews. Well it comes down to the fact that I lived in SA at the time this huge event took place, having moved to Hawaii in 2001. The film brought back many memories, good and bad, of my 38 years in South Africa.

The movie shares a moment in South Africa when, like on 9/11 there was a moment when USA united regardless of political party, this great day in 1995 was a moment when the new, very nervous South Africa united.

There were many years of my life that Nelson Mandela represented the enemy coming to destroy our country and it is with humility as well as pride that I can say that my veiw of Nelson Mandela changed. Thank goodness he was around. Sadly he did not stay in power longer than he did, our country would have been stronger and better with his leadership.

Thanks for your time

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