Flixchatter Review: Invictus

On the plane ride back home, I wasn’t able to fall asleep right away. So what’s better than catching up on flicks I’ve missed and Invictus is one I had been wanting to see (I wrote a post on it back in October).

The Clint Eastwood-directed flick tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team Francois Pienaar to help unite their country. It’s what he called a ‘human calculation,’ a risky political gamble on his part, but one he isn’t afraid to lose. “The day I am afraid to do that is the day I am no longer fit to lead,” he says admirably.

Biopic is always a tricky undertaking, but Eastwood wisely chose not to tell Mandela’s whole life story. Instead it’s a slice of his extraordinary life as the newly-elected first black president, four years after he was released from 27-year imprisonment in 1990.

Going in, I confess I didn’t know much about Mandela’s history, but I definitely come to appreciate him more after seeing the movie. There’s a scene where a newspaper headline reads: He can win an election, but can he lead a country? A skeptical sentiment amongst his people that greeted his political triumph. But Mandela calmly responds to his irritated chief of staff Brenda, “It’s a legitimate question.” It’s amazing how after nearly 3 decades behind bars, he didn’t become embittered or vengeful.

Based on a short poem of the same name that means ‘unconquered,’ the story is quite simple and blatantly predictable. I never doubted for a moment that somehow the underdog team would win the championship, the rugby-heavy scenes played out like a tearjerker sports flick like Rudy or Invincible. But yet, it was still a worthwhile journey to take in all the way to its jubilant happy ending. This is truly a movie where performances are the heart of the movie, overcoming the cliches and schmaltzy-ness on numerous occasions.

Morgan Freeman is used to playing larger-than-life characters, after all he’s played God with such finesse – in a brash comedy Bruce Almighty no less – so it’s a no-brainer he’s the right man to portray the Noble Peace Prize-winning humanitarian. Acccording to IMDb trivia, Mandela himself apparently wanted the 73-year-old Tennessee-born actor to portray him, and it’s easy to see why. Freeman depicted Mandela such grace and convincing statesman-like quality that his uneven South African accent never derail his heartfelt performance. He truly made the movie for me, he embodied his character so well and made him admirable and relatable at the same time.

The handshake that made history

Matt Damon isn’t an actor I’ve always been a fan of, but he won me over after the excellent Bourne series and he’s proven time and again that he’s quite a versatile and likable actor. He bulked up considerably to play the role of Springboks captain Pienaar, and took some extensive rugby training by Chester Williams, the only black Afrikaan member of the team. But it’s his warmth and believable respect and admiration towards Mandela that really touched me. Freeman and Damon’s chemistry is crucial to the plot and they had that in spades.

The rugby scenes are ok I suppose, but then again I’m not a sports fan and sports flicks isn’t my genre. But I think it served the story here, and provided for the emotional key scenes. I’m more moved by the inspiring Mandela quotes peppered throughout: Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it’s such a powerful weapon. That’s definitely something to aspire to.

I don’t know if it’s the music, Eastwood’s direction or my hormones simply playing tricks on me, but I find myself tearing up a lot throughout the movie. Even my hubby was chuckling at me as I frantically searched for tissue to wipe off my endless tears.

At the end of my previous post, I asked ‘let’s see if this will indeed rise above a typical feel-good sports movie.’ Happy to say that it absolutely did rise far above that. I’ll remember this movie more for its profound message on humanity than the rugby game.

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What’s your thoughts of INVICTUS?

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12 thoughts on “Flixchatter Review: Invictus

    1. Hi Ross! Yeah I’m back, wish I could spend more time there though. We’re blessed with fine weather the entire time, woke up to sunshine six consecutive days (which I’m guessing is rather uncommon there? We had a fantastic time, lucky you get to live there! 🙂

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  2. I think it’s interesting that Morgan Freeman wasn’t really in the Running for an oscar after another fine performance. Testament to the consistent quality of the man’s acting and the fact that people appear to just expect class from him. It’s like: “And the contenders are…etc. What about Moragn Freeman? Well, yeah, ok, but he’s always good.” Hopefully Oscar will wake up and smell what’s cookin in the Freeman kitchen soon enough.

    I liked the human feel of this film as well, which made up for it’s weaker elements, excessive cheese etc. Clintwood presents a good man and his good example, well. That’s to be applauded.

    1. Ronan, Freeman was nominated for an Oscar for this, but lost out to Jeff Bridges. He did win for Best Supporting Actor in another Eastwood-directed flick Million Dollar Baby, which I haven’t seen yet. His performance is indeed Oscar-worthy here, but he is consistently good like you said.

      When I order an omelette, I always ask ‘easy on the cheese, please.’ Eastwood does tend to pile that on, but I was so moved by the story and the performances I didn’t mind it here.

      1. I think I had a mind blank when I was writing that comment (it was way past my bedtime. You see that, I’m sacrificing my beauty sleep to comment). I knew that about Freeman. Anyway back to reality.

        I agree. There is a thin line between measured sentiment and cheese. And Clint does walk the line. But like you said, this is a very moving story and it had some great scenes and lines and performances so I would definitely watch it again given the chance.

        1. No biggie, Ronan. When you said it I actually had to double check if he was indeed nominated. Glad that he was, because the Academy often has no clue what quality performance is if it hit ’em in the face!

  3. Good review Ruth. I still haven’t seen the film but it’s good to hear this is more than a sport movie and Morgan Freeman fits the bill.

    1. It’s worth checking out one day, Castor. I’m glad I got to see it on the plane as I might not get to it for a while if I hadn’t.

  4. Really liked it too. I’m a huge rugby fan and remember watching the South African team at the time during the World Cup, so it brought back a lot of memories. I thought Freeman was excellent as Mandela. It was a little schmaltzy in parts, but not too much…great review!

    1. Y’know what Olive, I once bumped into a New Zealand rugby player (not sure if he was a pro) in the tall tower in a square in Sienna. He was very cordial and sweet, I thought about him when I watched the movie! I don’t mind a little schmaltz in good measure, especially when the performances are excellent.

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