I feel bad when I have to criticize a movie that has its heart in the right place, a film that tells such a grand story that one can't help but be touched by it, but alas, that is the nature of what I do. Though the marvelous true story presented in Clint Eastwood's newest directorial effort, Invictus, is truly memorable and deserving of the big screen treatment, it has enough problems that prevent me from giving it a glowing recommendation.
The film follows Nelson Mandela through the initial stages of his presidency in South Africa in 1994. Having been an activist against apartheid, he had been accused of sabotage and was thrown in prison for 27 years, but when he gets out he does not seek revenge, but rather togetherness. Through his presidency, he made great strides in the racial community and this is the beginning of his story. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela and in his effort to bring his country together, he enlists the help of Francois Pienaar, played by Matt Damon, the captain of the South Africa rugby team, the Springboks. He explains to Pienaar that he wants the team to represent the country and inspire the people to come together. It is through this that he hopes he can end the racial tension present through their land. The movie chronicles Pienaar's team as they work their way through the World Cup, eventually winning the entire thing and uniting their country as one.
Now, if that isn't an inspirational story, I don't know what is, but the art of filmmaking requires more than good source material to adapt. Clint Eastwood is a multi-talented man, proving himself capable of directing, acting and even scoring his own films, and if anybody was going to do this story justice, it was him and I feel like this is the best he could have done with it.
It remains disappointing, however, that so many vital parts of filmmaking came together to create such a lackluster product. Eastwood directs lavishly as usual, the performances from Damon and Freeman are award worthy and the script is finely tuned to echo the real life story of what happened, but it simply calls for cheese and believe me, the last 30 minutes alone are as cheesy as any film I've seen this year.
Nevertheless, Freeman's portrayal of Mandela transcends the cheese. He's a humble, soft spoken man who takes the jeers as easily as he takes the cheers. When the newspaper comes out after the election questioning his ability to run the country, he legitimizes the question by asking it himself. He wants to do what is best, but knows that it will be a difficult task. Later, when he receives his first paycheck, he is shocked by how high it is and decides to give a third of it to charity. Mandela is a truly inspiring man and Freeman plays him with aplomb.
But no matter how he plays him, he can't make up for a lack of depth. Although what I said previously about the script holds true (it does tell the story of what happened very well), it never looks towards anything but what is happening in the rugby games. It brings up Mandela's own personal struggles that try to show how optimistic he can be even when his own life is breaking apart, but they are left shamefully unexplored, only briefly mentioned within the context of the overall picture. You also don't get to see much else of what he does. As far as I could tell, based on the story presented to me, all he did was watch rugby and chat with the players. Even during meetings about other key issues, he gets easily sidetracked by any news about the Springboks team. I find it hard to criticize these aspects too much because the story is focused and that's fine, but its desire to tell that story unfortunately left too many other issues untouched.
Of course, I acknowledged its focused story, did my best to judge only that and I was thoroughly enjoying it until the end. The final rugby game against New Zealand goes on for far too long and the excessive use of slow motion became laughable. The impact of the story was nearly stripped away by this poor ending which included the aforementioned corniness and dropped the film from a strong 4 score to my present score that I feel is indicative of the final product.
Invictus may be a biopic as well as another uplifting sports story, both of which we've seen far too many times, but it's done well enough to justify a look.
Invictus receives 3/5