INVICTUS (Clint Eastwood, 2009)

Except that Morgan Freeman’s low-keyed performance as Nelson Mandela disappoints (Mandela had been petitioning Freeman for years to play him), I found Clint Eastwood’s Invictus substantial and engrossing. Perhaps guided by Anthony Peckham’s script, based on John Carlin’s book, Eastwood took the proper route: establishing President Mandela’s intention to be a racial conciliator for the sake of South Africa’s destiny, and then showing his efforts to draw into this national scheme the potential for South African victory in the 1995 rugby World Cup competition.
     For me, the performance that matters most is the beautiful one that Matt Damon gives as François Pienaar, the Afrikaaner who captained the South African team. Pienaar is a reticent chap; when he fails to rise in any degree to the racism with which his own family is infected, I was intrigued. Pienaar is the sort who silently, and sharply, takes things in, and his intermittent encounters with Mandela chart a course that takes him to the moment when he personally thanks Mandela—Pienaar is too modest and humble to speak for anyone but himself—for bringing the country together. Damon has given some wonderful performances—and none more accomplished or more moving than this one.
     The condensation of the decisive match is stunning. Surely, though, Eastwood’s film travels a familiar road; but the thrilling moment for South Africa, which might have taken an uncivil course following the collapse of apartheid and Mandela’s release from political imprisonment after a quarter-century, gives the sports material especial depth. The victory isn’t South Africa’s alone; it really is the world’s.
     I love Victorian literature, especially Victorian poetry; therefore, I don’t know how to process that such a silly and inferior poem as William Ernest Henley’s 1875 “Invictus” figures so prominently here. No kudos for that.

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