*** out of ****
Nothing like a Clint Eastwood movie in theatres to let you know awards season is in full swing.
Invictus stars the great Morgan Freeman as South African president Nelson Mandela, soon after he is elected and facing a country divided in two: the black and white people in the country see each other as enemies. Mandela uses the most popular sport in the country, rugby, to try and unite the country. The Springboks are currently a disgrace of a team and the blacks refuse to root for them. Mandela has the team captain Francois over for tea, and inspires him to inspire his own team to go and win the World Cup. Thus they start winning, making public appearances, and eventually go on to capture the country's hearts.
Freeman is utterly convincing as Mandela, getting his accent down pat and coming across as an incredibly decent person trying to do the best thing for the country that put him in jail for thirty years. Mandela works himself to exhaustion, although the film gives the idea that he was more interested in the rugby team than he was in actually leading the country. Matt Damon once again proves his acting chops as Francois, the team captain determined to make Mandela and South Africa proud. The supporting cast- almost all completely unknown- are also very good and faithful to their real-life counterparts. Eastwood's films are usually quiet and slow, but this is something very different. The rugby sequences catch the intensity and rough nature of the sport, and even during the other scenes, the characters keep the plot moving and the film watchable. (The film also follows Mandela's bodyguards, which include blacks and whites, as they try to protect him as he constantly exposes himself to threats. It's an unnecessary subplot but it does make the film more interesting.) While the ending is never in question- it's based on a true story, after all- the final match is frought with suspense so that the finale delivers the emotional goods.
Compared to other real-life sports dramas, this isn't particularly special, but it is meticulously well-made and its star power elevates it above average. The incredible musical score and impressive original songs definitely help. The film is entertaining, but what it really lacks is relevance to an American audience. Who knew Eastwood, the king of Westerns and sad, quiet dramas, would actually be good at making a rugby movie?
I would recommend this film to fans of sports movies, and fans of the stars.
You can watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9Ovkye6lac