Movie Review: Invictus (2009)

March 20, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

I decided a while ago that Clint Eastwood doesn’t make bad movies.  Some are exceptional, of course, but none fall below “very good”.  Invictus, his latest film starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela (who else?) and Matt Damon as François Pienaar, captain of South African rugby team, is one of Eastwood’s weaker films.  But it is still, well, very good.

Invictus is a rather formulaic story about two men – one a politician, the other a sports star – who attempt to unite a nation through the 1995 Rugby World Cup.  There’s the set up, the journey, and the climax – all the elements of an inspirational sports movie are there.

But the thing is, Invictus is a true story.  From the history to the main characters to the events that changed the world, almost all of the film is true. That’s what makes Invictus so amazing.  There’s no artificial manipulation injected to make you feel inspired.  Knowing that the things depicted actually happened is more than enough to give you goosebumps.  Even if you know what happens from start to finish, Invictus is still a worthwhile experience.  If you don’t know anything about what happened, even better.

However, I had a couple of problems with the film.

First, though I usually enjoy Clint’s imagery, some of the stuff in Invictus felt a little heavy handed.  When you can tell immediately what the director is trying to achieve with a shot or a sequence of shots, regardless of how well-intentioned it is, you get the feeling that you’re being manipulated.  That happens a few times in Invictus.

Second, the depiction of rugby wasn’t very satisfying.  Part of this is because the film is confined to what happened in real life, though it wouldn’t have hurt to make the games a little more exciting.  People who have never watched the sport won’t have much of a clue what is going on, and frankly, will probably think it is a boring, brutish game where all points are scored on penalty kicks.  It would have made things more riveting had they at least tried to show some of the sublime running and passing the game is known for, rather than simply tackles and scrums which make the sport appear like a constant mass orgy.

As for the performances, both Freeman and Damon are very good, although I wouldn’t have handed either Oscar nominations.  There was never any question that Freeman is the perfect actor to play Nelson Mandela, and Damon’s stocky physique (despite his height) makes him a believable rugby player.  Maybe it’s because the two actors fit the roles so well physically that their performances don’t stand out as much.

So, I found Invictus to be a very good film that fell a couple of notches short of great.  In my opinion, it’s one of those movies where you marvel at the true story and the real-life people depicted in it more than the quality of the film itself.

3.5 stars out of 5