A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Rugby is a hooligan’s game, played by gentlemen…

In drama on December 8, 2009 at 3:08 am

Clint Eastwood’s latest is a solid, if fairly formulaic sports film, with the politics and philosophies of possibly one of humanity’s greatest leaders wedged in. The movie follows Nelson Mandela (played by the always great, Morgan Freeman) from the day he’s released from prison (after 27 years), to his first year as President of the newly democratized South Africa. Beyond the opening of his arms to his opponents and former-oppressors, he believes that the gap in race relations in his country will be solved by the nation’s rugby team winning the World Cup.

Taking the team’s captain, Francois Pienaar (played by Matt Damon), under his wing; throwing out some philosophical pointers, giving him a (not personal) tour of his former prison-cell, and pushing the team to not only work together on the field, but with the country. During the first half of the movie, the rugby team is just peripheral; with glimpses into how the team isn’t known to do too well, how the citizens of the country cheer or root against the team, and how even the players are torn between their new leader and country. Fortunately, the movie follows the true formula of these “overcoming the odds” types of stories. There’s no one really pointed out as an antagonist – until the end, with the face of the adversary the New Zealand rugby team, who do the ritualistic Haka dance before the match. (The Haka, as I learned from the very educational TV program, ‘World’s Deadliest Warriors’; was the pre-battle ritual of the Maori’s, which basically meant, “I’m going to kill you, eat you and take your power”. Hey, that’s what they said.) Other than that, every point of opposition that Mandela seems to come across, is wiped away with a speech on unity and forgiveness.

Which is really where the heart of the movie lies. The sports part, sure, might draw people in – and even by the end; even though I know nothing about rugby and don’t generally care about sports, I was excited to see the South Africans win – but it’s the story of Nelson Mandela and how he turned a nation that could have easily fallen into civil war, or many multitudes of terrible things happen, into a place of unity (or moreso, than under the regime of Apartheid.)

I don’t know that this movie will garner the acclaim that Eastwood’s been getting of late – though Freeman’s a shoe-in for some Best Actor nods. There are some major issues with the musical score, that I had with the movie. The common cues that Eastwood – and in this movie, his son Kyle gets the credit – of the lite-jazzy brass instruments, just don’t fit. Honestly, the moments the music picks up a more “conventional” African sounding tone, the movie instantly clicks into place, and then it’s broken again, with the weird inclusion of a couple of pop songs. The other thing, obviously are the American actors that are putting on the South African accents. Both of the leads in the movie do an respectable job, but in the moments where the accent slips it breaks the reality of the movie. Nothing fatal, or totally making this movie bad, just the – admittedly – few things that didn’t sit well with me. But, with those weaknesses come two moments that were very powerful, a little frightening and drew a correlation to September 11, and the powerful moments in THE 25th HOUR – that I recently mentioned in my “Best of the Decade” post. As I mentioned there’s a few moments where the rugby team is taken to Robbin Island Prison, where Mandela had been held prisoner for over two decades. Here we see how small the cells were, and the conditions of meaningless labor forced on the prisoners. It’s harrowing, and reminded me of the moments in THE 25th HOUR where we’re taken into the gaping holes where the Twin towers had stood. The other moment in the movie, that really threw me and I wasn’t really sure what was happening; involved a man we see looking out at Johannesburg on the morning of the World Cup. We see him again, moments later at the helm of a jumbo jet, as it closes in on the rugby stadium, where Mandela and the South African team are. The moment winds up not being as sinister as it’s initially played out to be, but I have to wonder what the point was of that scene, other than to use the memories that we have of 9/11, to give the movie an added jolt of tension – if only momentarily.

INVICTUS is a heart-warming, and uplifting story; that might actually fit right in with the hit The Blind Side (which I haven’t seen). But, for a night out at the movies – even with the whole family – there’s worse things you could do than go see it.

  1. You missed the point of the SAA jumbo jet which was taken over by the
    captain to fly low over the stadium where the Springboks were playing.
    It was to wish the team luck which was painted in large letters under the
    fuselage of the plane so the team could see it.

    If it did in fact happen, as did so much else in the film, then it belongs.
    If not it does not, because for no reason we are made to think that the
    plane is going to be flown into the stadium in 9.11 style.

    • Hi Frank, thanks for commenting (and not being spam). 🙂

      I actually understood what the scene meant, after the plane flew over the stadium – and I know that that was pretty much what Mandela was probably talking about when he said the Springbok’s needed something to throw off the New Zealand team; like their Haka tends to do. My point was the way that the scene plays out, is purposefully created to make us feel like we might be about to see a horrible terrorist act – and sure it might play on American ignorance about “the world” (though, obviously if there had been a plane flown into a stadium in the 90’s, we’d probably remember) – but it was something that seemed only there to make us all afraid if only for a moment. But, it apparently did happen, I’m just not sure why we had to have it set up in the way it was.

      I could have been more clear, I guess, in stating that. Thanks again, for the comment. 🙂

  2. I searched on the web, but found nothing to prove that the plane did fly low over the stadium, this was a very meaningful gesture…

  3. The jet did fly over the stadium. See here:

    Short version:
    Long version:

    Guillermo, this is easy to find if you choose your search terms thoughtfully (“south africa world cup final rugby stadium saa jet”).

    I enjoyed the movie very much. Mandela and Eastwood are long time heroes of mine. I loved Morgan Freeman’s portrayal – not an easy thing to do with such a well known figure. I quickly forgot this was an actor, and his portrayal never seemed to grate, or be out of tune with the great man.

    I saw this movie with my son, a 15 year old rowing fanatic, so it was a wonderful thing for us to share.

    I recommend it to anyone wanting to know how to lead. There was a lot of wisdom and love in this film. Great role models for men and boys, and women too. Men need to know what it is to be a man when there are so many difficulties for us these days, and so few men have had good fathering to show the way. I recommend Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” for the same reason. That is also a fantastic film, totally different, and yet with many of the same reasons for loving it.


    in London

    • Thanks for the great comment Mark. I agree – and I’m not sure this will go against what I said in the review – but there is a lot to take from this movie; regarding love and leading.

      And I love Gran Torino too. 🙂 (More than Invictus really, because it’s characters are shown to be a little more flawed than the nearly perfect – and only mentioned in some dialogue, about he’s just a man too – Nelson Mandela. (Not that I’m against showing a great man, being great. He was just a little too saintly; when compared to Walt Kowalski.)

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