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.
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.