(PG) Warner DVD/BD
Although not as personal as Clint Eastwood’s last film, Gran Torino, Invictus is about an inspirational time in post-apartheid South Africa that united a nation.
Newly-elected President Nelson Mandela (seemingly the role Morgan Freeman was born to play) sees an opportunity to unite white and black together on the football field.
When he attends a match played by rugby union team the Springboks, Mandela observes that black South Africans don’t support the home team — not surprising given there is only one black player on the team.
Learning that the Sports Committee is planning to change the team’s name and colours in time to host the Rugby World Cup in 1995, Mandela convinces them to abandon the idea and invites the team captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to a meeting.
Mandela cites a short poem by William Ernest Henley called “Invictus” that he says inspired him through his days of imprisonment. “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul,” are its final words.
Pienaar soon realises that a Springbok win would go a long way to healing black and white relations during this time of transition. So the film recounts the highs and lows as the team endeavour to be at the top of their game for their country.
A change begins as the new season opens and, in the set piece of the film, Mandela arrives at a game wearing a Springbok jersey with Pienaar’s number on it.
The film is pure inspirational sports story, the type that Hollywood has been doing for ages. The difference is that this story is part of the fabric of Mandela’s mark on a generation.
Freeman’s performance is more an impersonation of Mandela, which is interesting given he looks so much like him. A more nuanced performance may have made it seem less one note, but it is a satisfying portrait of one of the 20th century’s most inspiring men.
Damon shows his acting range with a flawless Afrikaans accent and a convincing portrayal of a man who seemingly had the country riding on his performance on the playing field.
More than a traditional underdog sports film, Invictus celebrates the possibility of transcendence.
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