I can’t seem to get excited about writing up Invictus. On the way out, one of the fellows in front of me called it “brilliant”. “Best movie of the year”, another fellow concurred. Me, I think they should see more films. (Though perhaps not the two we got trailers for — The Book of Eli, where even in two minutes the slow motion shots of Denzel Washington got hilariously repetitive, and Edge of Darkness, where Mel Gibson’s daughter is killed in order to provide him with a motive.)
Anyway. Invictus is a solid but simplistic telling of a slice of history: the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa and Nelson Mandela’s efforts to use the sport to unite the country post apartheid. It’s basically another movie by white people to make them feel good about themselves. Mandela takes office, white people are suspicious, the rugby team does well, everyone is all hugs and smiles. And look, I am American, which means I barely know United States history, let alone history outside our borders, but I am pretty sure the situation in South Africa was and is a bit more complicated than that.
Sports-wise, I still don’t get rugby. Of course, I once saw a four hour movie about cricket & I don’t understand it either. You never even get really excited about the matches because you basically know how it’s going to go, and at the end of a slightly overlong movie, repeated slow motion takes are just not a good idea.
I read that Eastwood arrived in South Africa for the first time about two days before he started shooting, and finished the film ahead of schedule. It shows. If you want to see a film about South Africa, rent Tsotsi. It’s directed by a white guy too, but a South African one, not an American blowing into town for a few weeks and back out again. I respect that Eastwood understands he doesn’t have a lot of time left. I wish he’d spend it telling his own stories.
Things it does well: Morgan Freeman’s performance (as if there were any question), avoiding drawing parallels to Barack Obama, Damon fitting in on the pitch as another rough-and-tumble bulky rugby guy, the all-cgi stadium crowds, some of the security guys (Tony Kgoroge is great). But overall, it’s just too tame a telling.