I am not a fan of sports films, I just have to get that out there. I find that generally they are a little dull I imagine unless you are a massive fan of the sport they simply don’t do it for you. Invictus is not a sports film, and I loved it.
I had high expectations of course, Clint Eastwood directing has almost become a gold standard, you just know it is going to be thought provoking. Morgan Freeman, one of those actors who you simply have to respect and Matt Damon who has proven himself time and again as being able to hold his own.
The beginning was a little jarring, I find the South African accent difficult to hear and watching Freeman say Mandalas famous speech at the start was a little strange, however it doesn’t take long to forget, Freeman captures everything about the iconic man from the way he walks to his face crumpling smile. Damon is utterly convincing from start to finish. A few members of the cast struggled with the accent, Adjoa Andoh who plays Mandelas assistant especially, her face seeming to twist in a totally unnatural way on occasion. If you can learn to live with it then you will find a wonderful story underneath.
The idea of focusing on the sport rather than trying to tell the story of Mandela was a good idea. The president saw rugby as a way to unite a country utterly divided by Mandelas election, split between men who saw him as a saint and men who wanted him dead. The Springboks representing everything that the black South Africans hated. The story allowed lots of tiny parts of Mandela to shine out. It was something admittedly that I knew little about, in Britain Mandela has always been spoken about with reverence, I was unaware of the controversy his Election bought in South Africa, and there is something great about films that make you want to run out and check the facts.
As I have said generally after the first few minutes it is easy to get lost in the story, there is one moment when Eastwood shows what it was like for Mandela in prison, a touching scene with Damon but watching Freeman in that position echo’s Shawshank a little too much and it pulls you out again, as do a couple of the song choices which seem out of place with the rest of the film.
I am being critical here because it would be very easy for me to ramble about how much I liked it. The humour was subtle and well timed mixing moments of gravitas with giggles. I did not know the outcome of the Rugby and if you don’t I recommend that you don’t look it up before you go, I held my breath for the last fifteen seconds, regardless of how intense the real match may have been Eastwood makes it so.
I get the feeling that it was a fine line between respectful and sycophantic, that a few moments longer on the rugby and people would have been bored. I think that Eastwood stayed the right side of things, on a film that could have been irritating.
I like Eastwoods style, it mimics an older era and when dealing with an historical subject, all be it recent history, it works well. Eastwood tells a good story, he captures the mood. It comes off as a simple film, although the rugby scenes rely heavily on CGI you wouldn’t know, which is what I always think CGI should be.
It is pretty obvious that the film attempts to compare Mandela to Obama, but then that is not really a bad thing, there are obvious parallels between the two men in terms of a countries reaction to them. Although I can imagine that this would be considered tasteless to some.
It is not, nor was it ever likely to be a critical look at Mandela as a leader, it treats him with admiration and respect for what he did, it touches on elements of his private life but doesn’t pry. It leaves you with an insight into a man who was so ready to forgive people he hated in a time when so many wanted revenge. It is inspirational, and uplifting. The Henley poem which is the title of the film is perfect in capturing what the film is essentially about, a poem that Mandela did rely on for inspiration while in prison. I think the fact that at the end not one person got out of their seats in the cinema I saw it in, that there was a person just next to me who started clapping shows how well it went down when I saw it, where people gasped at the same time and laughed at the same time, one of the things that can make the cinema experience so much better than a DVD at home.