Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge
Director: Clint Eastwood
Running Time: 134 mins
Invictus is an American film about the true story of the first year of Nelson Mandela’s presidency of South Africa, and how the national rugby team played a vital role in uniting a once deeply divided country.
This is a really interesting film. In part a riveting biography of Mandela’s early days as President, in part an exciting and entertaining sports film, Invictus is an engrossing watch from start to finish. It’s not just a bog-standard biography, though, as its combination of genres and impressively deep emotion make it a far more captivating watch than the typical historical movie, even though it often descends into unfortunately cheesy territory.
Let’s start with what really stands out here: the performances. In all truth, there’s nobody out there who could play Nelson Mandela as well as Morgan Freeman. As effortlessly charismatic and likable as he always is, Freeman brilliantly portrays how Mandela’s kind and caring heart for the sanctity of his country came first in all decisions, even though they proved hugely risky at losing him his long-term support. What’s more is that Freeman shows Mandela’s endless wisdom and expertise in political decision-making through his calm and measured performance, something that makes watching the character over the course of the film absolutely riveting.
Alongside Freeman is Matt Damon, who plays Francois Piennar, then captain of the South African national rugby team. Although his heavy South African accent may put viewers off at first, Damon does a great job throughout, and combines the sporting gruff and toughness of his character with brilliant heart and emotion, perfectly complementing Freeman as Mandela, and giving the rugby side of the story more depth than you’d expect at first.
When we come to the story, you can at first look at it in two separate parts. On the one hand, there’s a story that shows how Mandela’s goal after coming to power was to unite South Africa, rather than take revenge on the oppressive white minority as so many of his followers intended. On the other, we follow the Springboks (the rugby team) on their journey through a tumultuous phase of poor form just before the World Cup in 1995.
At times, the two stories feel separate, particularly in the film’s first act, but what I really liked about Invictus was how it brought the two main plots together so well, and related the role of the rugby team in carrying out Mandela’s national unity plans, with the team being used as a symbol to bring whites and blacks together, and with their performance in the World Cup proving integral to achieving the goal.
As a result, it’s a gripping watch throughout, and even if you’re not into your rugby, or your political history, both sides of the story will definitely intrigue you, simply because they’re so deeply connected, and offer up an impressively poignant and important story about national unity.
The only caveat to that is that things do get a little bit cheesy come the end. While Clint Eastwood does a great job at directing the movie for the most part, the film’s very final act feels little different from typical American football movies. Yes, the matches portrayed did happen for real, but they’re shown in a very cheesy Hollywood fashion (often set to a rather poorly matched soundtrack), which takes away from the impressive poignancy of what’s going on off the pitch, which was a shame to see.
Overall, however, I really liked Invictus. Not only is it a historical drama, and not only is it a sports movie, but it’s a film that brilliantly combines the two genres to make for a gripping and emotionally impressive watch throughout, furthered by two great lead performances, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6.