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What does Nelson Mandela do after becoming president of South Africa? He rejects revenge, forgives oppressors who jailed him 27 years for his fight against apartheid and finds hope of national unity in an unlikely place: the rugby field. Clint Eastwood (named 2009’s Best Director by the National Board of Review) directs an uplifting film about a team and a people inspired to greatness. Morgan Freeman (NBR’s Best Actor Award winner and Oscar nominee for this role) is… More >>


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Rugby has never been well publicized in the US. Soccer, although not a ranking sport, receives far more publicity. Therefore, it was knowledge-expanding and stirring to observe the underdog South Africa team’s road to a 1995 Rugby cup victory.

The accompanying plot, of course, was the work of Nelson Mandela in using this victory and its team preparation to try to unify South Africa. From our own trip in 1994, when the country was just opening up, we had an idea that there was much unrest and volatility. The nation was still racially divided, although the Apartheid enforced by a distinct white minority had just ended.

Mandela has never received credit for the job he did in keeping South Africa’s peace, while trying to encourage foreign investment. He saw that merely seizing white-owned businesses and infrastructure would only be looting of a fixed amount of wealth. No growth could result from the types of activities that were occurring in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, where white minorities had been ousted from power.

As the new President of South Africa, representing an overwhelming black majority, Mandela took a long term view of what was needed. He alienated a considerable portion of his own party to implement his program of racial reconciliation.

The movie provides an exceptional, well integrated blend of sports and far-seeing political strategy.

Some critics have heaped praise on Invictus, claiming that this represents director Clint Eastwood’s work “at the top of his game.” Other critics have carped about what they see as “trite” dialog. Perhaps if Mandela had been ranting against his racist predecessors and, even more, against the US, they would have enjoyed the dialog more. One critic claimed that too much artistic license was taken in portraying actual events of Mandela’s interaction with the rugby team and its captain. These objections seem trivial.

Others have predicted that Morgan Freeman, in his role of Mandela, is a strong Oscar candidate. I hope that Invictus receives a potful of other rewards as well.

With all the negative, tragic outcomes of recent history and, of course, today’s events, it was refreshing and stirring to see the rugby success of the South Africa team. More to the point, it represented a hopeful outcome for the nation as a whole.
Rating: 5 / 5

During his 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela regularly turned to a poem Called Invictus, and found profound inspiration.

During his time as President he continued to turn to this poem, and knowing it by heart, wrote it out long hand, and to the Captain of the Sprinboks passed it, who found profound inspiration.

During my life, I found profound inspiration in Nelson Mandela, and if a man can live in the unfair divided regime called apartheid, can spend so much time in prison, and emerge wise instead of rancorous, and can become president of a nation so divided, it raises the bar of human possibility, and inspires us to do better. If Mandela can solve the unsolvable problems of South Africa, if the Berlin Wall can fall, then cannot my own country’s problem be solved, could there be peace in Nothern Ireland. All of these things which once seemed impossible have come to pass.

And Invictus the movie invites us to see Mandela in elegant action, uniting a divided nation, averting civil unrest and civil war, reviving the sport of apartheid (rugby), saving the Springboks from being disbanded, and playing a pivotal role in inspiring their triumphs.

Clint and Morgan, between them have won numerous Academy Awards on their previous collaborations. Morgan Freeman won best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby playing Clint’s sidekick, and played Clint’s sidekick in Unforgiven.

Morgan Freeman impresses as Mandela, who he knows personally, and does an outstanding job. As much if not more is conveyed through a nod, a gesture and a facial expression than through words. Matt Damon impresses as the Rugby Captain. Having played rugby myself, he totally convinces in his body language and movement as a rugby player.

Clint Eastwood does an impressive job outside his normal territory and familiar genre, making the rugby scenes very true to life. Usually the cameras are off field, here they are up close and personal in the thick of the action.

My one critique of the movie is that it lacks something Hollywood likes, namely the conflict, drama, and the hubris of the characters.

In Changeling for example, Christine Collins has to overcome great adversity, and transform from a mom mourning her missing child to an activist, even being committed to a psychiatric hospital because she disagreed with the police captain.

In Invictus, the great Nelson Mandela adversity has already happened before the events of this movie happen, so the great dramas of his life remain unexplored, and the drama of his wife Winnie being charged with murder also remains unexplored. A quality movie made about all that, would surely win many awards.

Invictus remains a great movie, it’s funny sometimes, it’s gripping, it’s inpiring, it’s even exciting. Although it’s Morgan Freeman’s movie, it’s Eastwood’s humor that’s pervasive. It’s a slice of Mandela, but not the whole cake. I fully expect Morgan Freeman will get nominated for this performance, and may even win. I would not be surprised if Eastwood, overlooked last year for his masterpiece Gran Torino (Full-Screen Edition), gets a nod this time as Best Director.

Trivia. Watch out for the other Eastwoods, Kyle scores the music. Scott, scores the winning points, and plays No. 10 for the Springboks. Invictus means, unconquerable, invincible. I hope this was helpful to you.
Rating: 4 / 5

‘Invictus’ is a Latin term meaning invincible, or unconquerable. It is also the title of an important poem, one which Nelson Mandela found inspiring during his long walk to victory, penned in the 1800s of the same title, which includes these famous words:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Mandela faced perhaps even more formidable challenges upon becoming the first post-Apartheid president of South Africa than he had trying to end Apartheid — how does one manage this kind of change, this kind of forgiveness, this kind of reconciliation? Perhaps the most important scene in the film for me was the one in which Mandela discusses with Francois Pienaar, the South African rugby team’s captain, what kind of leadership philosophy one needs to have, particularly when faced with a seemingly hopeless task that most have written off as unobtainable. Leadership by example is important here; courage in the face of adversity and perseverance even as all appear negative is also key.

Mandela is played admirably by Morgan Freeman; Freeman has been a friend to Mandela for many years, and even so found the role daunting. How does one portray a living legend? Francois Pienaar is played by Matt Damon; Damon recounts in press information for the film his meeting with Pienaar, and how Pienaar, an actual rugby player, is so much larger physically than Damon (who, despite his athletic build, is of a more average size). Clint Eastwood, now a master film maker, was able through his camera work to disguise this fact — rugby players in general are larger than average!

The rugby scenes are very well done; I saw this film with an audience where most had never been exposed to rugby before, but they had no problem figuring out the basic pattern of play, and so problems with rules and strategies did not become a hindrance. The political scenes, which could also have the potential of descending into arcana that would lose a non-South African audience, were also well crafted to show important issues without delving into the minutiae of politics that end up being distracting. The on-field and off-field struggles are juxtaposed, and the film shows how the rugby World Cup helped to bring the divided nation together — of course, this would be to simplify history far too much, but it was an important step.

The victory of the Springboks, with Mandela handing the victory cup to Pienaar, is considered by many to be one of the greatest moments in sports history (the BBC testifies to this, among others).

Overall, this is a feel-good film that has important historical and social themes. The cell on Robben Island, where Mandela spent more than half of his nearly three-decade political imprisonment, was actually used in the film — an important element that helps show the importance of Mandela’s actions, and the power of how what might have been quite legitimate hatred and desire for vengeance had become an even more powerful drive for unity and reconciliation.

This is an important film, and worthy of viewing and discussion. It qualifies as one of the most significant South African films, also, as much of the cast are from South Africa and much of the filming was done at or near the actual venues of this taken-from-true-life film.

Ah, if only I were 20 years younger, I’d be out on the rugby pitch tomorrow!

Rating: 5 / 5

Before you buy the movie tickets and order your popcorn, be sure to take about five minutes or so and brush up on the game of rugby. Then head for the theatre door, grab a seat and watch Morgan Freeman portray South Africa president Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s latest gem,Invictus. In 1995, Mandela used the sport of rugby to bring a nation together, and now, Freeman, in 2009, uses his talent as an actor to show the world on the silver screen how one man’s courage and fortitude brought together a nation of 43 million. As for a quick-reference guide on rugby, it is football without pads and it is rough. Forty-minute halves and no timeouts. No forward passing…and if you have a kicker who can boot the ball a long way,that will help. Field goals are worth three points, extra points are two, and if you can battle your way across the goal line it is worth five points. There you go. Of course, there’s a few more rules (but not many), but that’s enough to make you a little more knowledgeable than the fella next to you who just asked his friend next to him,”What is the score?”

Rating: 4 / 5

I don’t know South African history or the rules of rugby. I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed Invictus. This is a feel good movie of the first degree. There is no villain. Everyone gets along. No crime in the streets. No racial antagonism above a whisper. Although I’ve never been to South Africa, my guess is that the sweetness of the movie is unrealistic. I don’t care. This movie portrays the world at it’s best. It lifts the heart. I had a wonderful time. Maybe Mandela wasn’t such a great guy. But the Mandela in this movie is the Mandela I want to believe in. I want people to watch this film, be inspired and pass the inspiration along. I hope I can.
Rating: 5 / 5

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