“Invictus” (meaning “unconquered”), directed by Clint Eastwood, is an empowering and breathtaking film about a subject that is still difficult to discuss in a public forum – racism.
The film opens in 1990 with the release of the newly elected South African president Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) from his 27-year stint living on Robben Island. He was imprisoned because of being an anti-apartheid activist and he was accused of acts of sabotage.
The opening scene is enough to replicate the social ambiance of the time period to the audience. There is a group of young black boys playing soccer on a field with a high, dilapidated metal fence and children wearing what could be called clothes, though their “clothes” are rags. On the other side of the road, a group of Caucasian boys play rugby on an emerald green lawn in sparkling white uniforms. Their coach remarks on Mandela’s release as, “Boys, remember this is the day our country went to hell.”
On the other hand, the general consensus is that Mandela is there to unite the bitterly divided country during his first term in office. On one side, there are the black compatriots who have been oppressed and disenfranchised. On the other, there are white Afrikaner nationalists who want to keep hold of system that repressed their fellow countrymen. He attempts to amalgamate South Africa upon the split of social values and issues of human injustice by transforming the horrid Springboks rugby team into national heroes.
The team is a symbol of separation and racism, but Mandela views this as an opportunity to inspire the people. He sees the Springboks as a way to keep the white population interested and happy because they would be lost if their team was abolished, like the major sports association wished to do. He also sees rugby as a solution to fuse politics and sport together to create a united new South Africa.
The first half hour creeps by as the audience goes through the initial process of meeting Mandela’s staff and experience the social divide along with him. It’s slow, but this was Mandela’s way of showing his positive attitude to bring everyone together. He treats all of his staff with a smile and showers them with appreciation. In one scene, one of his bodyguards insists while they push the crowds away, that they are to smile at the people.
Freeman plays the part with a quiet strength, but with a strong conviction. His portrayal of Mandela brings the character to life for the audience.
The pacing of the film picks up quickly once Mandela invites the captain of the Springboks, François Pienaar (Matt Damon) to tea to inform him of his intentions to obsessively support the team for the greater cause to the nation. Not only Mandela, but Pienaar wants the rugby team to capture the heart of the nation and win the 1995 World Cup.
Damon gives an outstanding performance and has a great on screen chemistry as the supporting actor to Morgan Freeman. He mastered the difficult South African accent that is a complex fusion of Dutch, English and French. He blends in well with his fellow actors on the rugby team, but still maintains a leader’s role without being too domineering. His role is not as prevalent as in other films, but he displays an attitude of support and strength not only for Mandela’s cause, but for his team as well.
I was very pleased with the interpretation of the events that occurred and the explanation of rugby. I knew a little about the sport before the film, but one gets enough knowledge to have a comprehension of what’s occurring during the game. Another aspect that really struck me was the inclusion of a native battle cry, the Haka, during the New Zealand All Blacks vs. the South African Springboks. If one doesn’t know what it is beforehand, this gesture is quite terrifying, but it was great to see the representation of New Zealand’s native culture.