Directed by Clint Eastwood
Released December 11, 2009
Biopics are a staggering undertaking. Even more daunting is the chronicling of some event recent enough to still be remembered by movie-going audiences, and a scenario in which the major players are still alive and often in power. Stephen Frears did it in 2006 with “The Queen” and succeeded, whereas Oliver Stone tried in 2008 with “W.” and crashed and burned. Esteemed director Clint Eastwood wanted to make a movie about Nelson Mandela, and somehow he managed to knead two stories together, creating both a moving sports film and an inspiring portrait of a unifying leader in one fantastic film.
“Invictus” is a film about South Africa, about a country struggling to reinvent and redefine itself after essentially being two nations for so many years. That monumental journey towards integration and forging one nation is represented through the stories of two very different individuals with similar ideas and the people less willing to move forward around them. The first is Nelson Mandela, the new president of South Africa who served 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activities and sought to unify the country by abandoning all prejudices and working towards one common goal of creating a nation. The second is Francois Pienaar, the captain of the South African rugby team, who was approached by Mandela to lead his team to victory with his support as a way of facilitating a shared triumph for the entire nation, black and white.
The dynamic between Mandela and Pienaar is fascinating, but it’s those behind the scenes on both ends who experience a more dynamic transformation since they’re at first unwilling to shake hands and even try to work together. Pienaar’s father actively derides Mandela and what his presidency means for South Africa, while their black housekeeper cheers for the president and expresses awe when Pienaar announces that he has been called to meet the celebrated leader. Mandela’s deputies are met by the white presidential detail reporting for duty on Mandela’s first day in office, and watching them go from immature rivals to something much closer to comrades and friends is simply stunning.
The ensemble cast makes the film, but it’s the two main actors who, like the real-live people on whom their characters are based, really drive it forward. Morgan Freeman is astounding as Mandela, and his energy and determination really shine through in a magnificent way. He’s poised and powerful, but there is an extraordinarily personal feel to all of the conversations he has, and the way he connects with all of the people who look up to him. His dedication and leadership is matched by Matt Damon in a marvelously impressive performance as Pienaar, donning a South African accent, blond hair, and athletic physique, but also mimicking Mandela’s incredible drive to succeed. Bringing together a nation torn apart for decades by racial hatred and winning a sports trophy might seem completely unalike goals, but for these two men, they couldn’t be more in sync and dependent upon each other. Eastwood’s film is inspiring and altogether thrilling, and the feeling it produces by its end is one of hope, joy, accomplishment, and above all, unity.
Saturday, December 19, 2009