Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.



Review by Patrick Hodges

Morgan Freeman is one of my favorite actors.  Clint Eastwood is one of my favorite directors.  The last two times they have teamed up, they have won Academy Awards.  Given the premise of Invictus, and given that the same Academy completely ignored Eastwood’s outstanding Gran Torino last year, I wanted to be able to leave the theater saying that this year’s Best Picture and or/Best Director was in the bag, and that all was right with the world.  Sadly, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Don’t get me wrong:  Invictus was a good movie.  Very good, in fact.  But though it’s message was inspirational and its goals were lofty, it never quite made that quantum leap from very good to outstanding.

It wasn’t because the acting was lacking.  Right from the beginning, Freeman buries himself in the character of Nelson Mandela, who was freed after 27 years of imprisonment to quickly rise to become President of South Africa.  The sheer nobility of the man, who rather than seeking retribution from the mostly-white Afrikaaners who were responsible for his imprisonment decided instead to embrace them as brothers, was not lost on me, though it was a hard sell for most of his people, whose scars had barely begun to heal.

The most popular sport among the white population of South Africa is rugby, and with South Africa hosting the 1995 World Rugby Cup, Mandela seizes upon the opportunity to try to unite his country.  He has a heart-to-heart with Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), the captain of the team (known as the Springboks), and tells him that winning the Cup would go a long way to promote unity and restore South Africa’s respect to the rest of the world.  That little pep talk goes a long way, apparently, as the Springboks are transformed from a struggling bunch to possible champions almost overnight.

The acting, as you can imagine, was terrific.  Both Freeman and Damon played their characters to the hilt:  Damon as a natural leader who wants so much to live up to his President’s expectations, and Freeman as the politician who, though flawed, never lost sight of the big picture.

The biggest problem with Invictus was that the story was too streamlined.  Though the story was based on factual history, everything seemed to click into place a little too easily, if that makes sense.  As socially unifying as a rugby match is, I found it a little unreasonable to assume that it could serve as a panacea for a country torn apart by decades of inner turmoil.

As a lesson in history, Invictus works.  As a study in inspiration, it succeeds.  As a movie, however, it didn’t quite hit all the marks.

3 ½ / 5 stars

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