— by ALEXA MILAN —
Any time the names Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are attached to a movie, more often than not some sort of Oscar buzz will emerge from it. “Invictus” is no exception, even if the story is unusually optimistic for an Eastwood film.
“Invictus” tells the story of how in his first term as president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela (Freeman) turned to an unlikely source to unite the country — the Springboks South African national rugby team. After spending 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activism, Mandela is elected president in South Africa’s first fully representative election. South Africa remains racially divided, and Mandela desperately wants to find some way to reconcile the country following apartheid.
At a Springboks rugby match, Mandela notices that the white South Africans are cheering for the Springboks while the black South Africans are cheering for the opposing team. It dawns on him that if he can get the whole country to unite in supporting the Springboks for the 1995 Rugby World Cup, it may drive the country to be united permanently.
He communicates his plan to Springboks captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), and as the team works harder than ever to reach the World Cup, together Mandela and Pienaar attempt to unite South Africa through the power of sport.
The title refers to a poem by William Ernest Henley that Mandela uses as inspiration and references several times throughout the film.
“Invictus” succeeds on many levels, first and foremost in its directing. Eastwood directs the film beautifully, capturing the initial turmoil and rising spirit of South Africa and the blood, sweat and tears the rugby team endures to unite the country with Mandela’s help.
Freeman gives a passionate performance as Mandela, cementing his deserved reputation as one of the best actors around. Damon, who I’ve always thought is very underrated, also gives a great performance as Francois, conveying his seamless transition from a cynic to a caring and proud South African. Michael Stevens and Eastwood’s son Kyle also provide a beautiful score.
My only complaint is that the film tends to drag a little in places, but the remarkable story is more than enough to make up for it. It’s riveting enough to bring tears of joy to the eyes of sports fans and non-sports fans alike. Overall, “Invictus” is an inspiring story that everyone should make an effort to see.
Follow Alexa Milan on Twitter at http://twitter.com/alexamilan.