“He can win an election, but can he run a country?”
Swift shot: Powerful, yet driven with emotions that many Americans just won’t grasp. I don’t know much about Rugby, let me be frank about that, and I don’t much care for it – or rather, I didn’t until this film. Invictus may very well have the same dramatic effect on Rugby interest that say, Top Gun had for navy applicants in the 80s. Inspiring performance by Freeman, simply perfect and firing on all cylinders – Eastwood and Freeman both deserve the Academy Award for Merit for their efforts.
There has never been a national movement to disband an NFL team for their political symbolism – oh, sure certain mamby pamby PC groups keep trying to change the Redskins and the Chiefs to something less “offensive” – but never has anyone said disband the team, change their colors, their name, their players, their coaches etc. for all they symbolize. The Raiders would be the first to go!
So, it is impossible for an American audience to find confluence with this film’s story. It has been over a hundred years that you would have been arrested for flying the “wrong” flag or even singing the “wrong” national anthem. So, it was amazing to watch Eastwood and Freeman enlighten the audience about building the unified, Rainbow Nation of South Africa post-apartheid through a sports movie. Also, it was highly entertaining, motivating and thought-provoking!
Set in 1994, leading up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted in South Africa – following the release of the always inspirational Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) from 27 years of captivity by the Afrikaner government, Invictus dares you to believe that compassion and honor can outweigh anger and vengeance. Mandela dares to ask more of his countrymen than they even believe possible, to forgive all transgressions.
The South African National Sports Council has put an issue on the table, what to do with the hated Springbok Rugby team, a source of racial and national divisiveness for a generation in South Africa. Mandela himself was once a fan of all those teams opposing the “Green and Gold” Springbok team, and yet, he understood what the motion would mean for his nation – civil war. Mandela seizes the opportunity to unify rather than divide his nation, as a punitive move to disband the, essentially, Afrikaner team would be seen as an attempt to anger the old-guard Afrikaner loyalists. Rugby, as Freeman says through his Mandela mask, is not a political equation, rather a human equation.
How can the National Sports Council go against a man who lived in a cell smaller than most Eastern European sedans for twenty-seven years?!? Quite simply, they can’t, and Mandela (or Madiba – a tribal title of honor) reminds them that to truly heal their nation, forgiveness must be the order of the day.
Mandela is an amazing figure for historians to tout as one of the bright moments of the late twentieth century, and Freeman wears his visage like a master craftsman. At times, you will find yourself so wrapped up in his performance, you’ll forget he is just an actor – his performance is on par with Shawshank Redemption in that regard.
While this film centers around the sport of Rugby, it is by no means a sports-film. If you are looking for a football or rugby movie this year, you won’t find one – come to think of it, I can’t name a single Rugby movie in my lifetime. It was difficult to prevent myself from comparing Invictus to one of my favorite films as a child, Victory – at the time I was playing mid-fielder myself – so that film inspired me and, oddly enough, started my fascination with World-War II.
I imagine Invictus will draw thousands of people to wikipedia or google to learn more about Mandela, the Springbok Captain Francois (Matt Damon) and, at the very least, find out what the hell a Springbok is! I kept thinking they were saying Springbug until the middle of the film. To save you that agony, a Springbok is a type of antelope native to South Africa, and when the “All Blacks” make their appearance in the film, they are the New Zealand team – that will keep you from scratching your head (you’ll thank me later). As for the ritual before a match, you are on your own there my friends.
Now for the bad stuff, Eastwood gets a few poor marks, namely allowing Matt Damon to slip in and out of accent, either go with it, or don’t – I still stand almost alone in praising Tom Cruise for not even feigning a German accent in Valkyrie (he, at least, didn’t appear wishy-washy). When Damon is on, he drives the script, but when he is off – he misses the drop goal (first Rick Swift Rugby reference ever).
Another momentum killer is a scene involving a helicopter swooping in dramatically to show Mandela’s solidarity with the Green and Gold – whoever chose that music must have been related to a cast-member, because it was completely out of scope with the rest of the film – and a tad cheesy. It had the effect of immediately launching me back into the theater and out of my imagination.
If passionate films about unification bore you, skip this one. If watching a bunch of meatballs in shorts and socks up to their necks scrum disturbs you, better lateral pass. But, if you want to be inspired, and you want to challenge yourself to be better than you not only think, but know that you are – run to theaters and enjoy this brief glimpse into the incredible mind of an amazing statesman who so loved his country that he became a fan of a team he once loathed. God, I hope I don’t ever have to become a Raiders fan to save my nation – or we are doomed!