Friday, December 4, 2009

Invictus Review

As my first real attempt at movie reviewing outside of my class, here is my dissection of Clint Eastwood's new film Invictus.

Well-meaning but ultimately too heavy-handed, Clint Eastwood’s Invictus gets lost in the scrum. Nelson Mandela and the South African Springbok’s 1995 Rugby World Cup victory may be an inspiring story, but the constant need to show how inspiring it all was makes the film dramatically inert.

It all starts to falter when the movie presents Mandela’s (Morgan Freeman) vision of uniting white and black through the victory of the World Cup as the ultimate answer to South Africa’s woes. The thought that a sporting victory would somehow heal the wounds of the past few decades is laughable. Invictus though, treats Mandela and the idea with utmost seriousness. A bodyguard says of him: “He’s not a saint, he’s a man;” though that concept is certainly not conveyed as any hint that Mandela or his ideas might be less than perfect is not to be seen. Senses are gradually deadened as every scene turns into another opportunity for a speech about inspiration or the need to adapt to change. Mandela recruits Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), the captain of the Springbok’s, as the person to inspire the team to victory. Since the team starts off the movie as a joke, a little explanation as to how the Springboks turned it around should be warranted, but none is offered. I guess when you have star power like Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon on your side, great things just happen.

In an attempt to create tension, a sizable amount of screen time is devoted to Mandela’s security detail and their worries over a possible assassination attempt. After returning to these worries over and over, the final payoff involving a jumbo jet is so ludicrous, it plays as a parody of Black Sunday.

The true hero of the film turns out to be Eastwood’s D.P., Tom Stern, who manages to make the Rugby matches exciting to watch, especially since no attempt is made at explaining how Rugby works. Nor is there ever any dramatic obstacle to overcome; the movie’s theme runs roughshod over the Springbok’s opponents, so the outcome of every match is never in doubt.

Invictus is a Latin word that translates as “unconquerable”. The film, however, makes one want to wave the white flag, as two hours of being fed unbridled piety and inspiration feels like being beaned in the head by a rugby ball.


Marco said...

I take exception to your view that the idea of sport healing decades of wrongs is laughable. It is true that one event cannot heal the litany of wrongs wreaked by apartheid, but this turning point paved the way to reconciliation and reduced the risk of an all out civil war. I lived through apartheid and I was at that famous game. What I saw that day was amazing. White people's mistrust of Mandela evaporated in seconds and black people were dancing in the streets after the bok victory. I would not have believed reports of such jubilation if I had not seen them first hand. Perhaps the movie failed to convey how immensely powerful the occasion really was. I still choke up when I tell people about what I saw that day. I have not seen the movie, but I will watch it with an uncritical eye as its going to be a joyride down memory lane for me. I don't think a 90 minute movie can adequately capture the whole story (I suggest your read the book on which it is based) and the directors inevitable compromises deliver a less than ideal result. As for that Jumbo over the stadium, imagine a 747 flying at 200 feet! It flew over stadium twice and the landing gear got pretty close to the roof. Its so South African to ignore safety precautions in the name of a good cause. Most of the buildings around the stadium are higher than the planes flight path...

FDot said...

Hello Marco-

Congratulations on having been at the final match. I'm sure in person, it was something quite special to watch. I know a national championship can certainly bring a country together and perhaps pave over some ill-will, my issue was that Invictus presents the World Cup as the sole incident that will solve all problems. Apartheid, the economy, and a host of other ills are all mentioned during the course of the film, but it's implied that all will be well simply because the Springbok's win. While the win may have laid down some groundwork, the movie would have been better positing the World Cup that way and not as the end-all.

I don't doubt the veracity of the jumbo jet story, nor do I particularly want to imagine one 200 feet above me, the film just did a clunky job presenting the scene.

I imagine that you will enjoy the film more than I did. The rugby scenes are well done and there are plenty of them. Having been at the final, you have an extra layer that no doubt will increase what you take from the film. Have a good screening.

that's J-O-S-H said...

History movie? Snooorrrrrrre! Where is "Precious?!"

FDot said...

I believe Precious is in Harlem.

Michelle M. said...

Homework movie. I'll Netflix it where it will languish at #45 or so until I finally admit to myself I'm never going to watch it and take it off the list.

Thanks for watching it so that I don't have to.

*Perhaps I'll read the book.

Polt said...

How did you see this already? I thought it wasn't coming out until later? Or did I just mishear what the tv ad was saying? Entirely possibly, mighta been a shiney bauble in the room distracting me. :)


FDot said...

Michelle-- With rare exceptions, the book is nearly always better than the movie.

Polt-- I'm magic. Call me Mr. Mistoffelees.

rmaurider said...

In regards to FDot comment all I have to say is that I believe it seems we did not see the same movie.
It is an EXCELLENT film and it'll only take a moronic view of it to think for even one second that its message is that the rugby game was suppose to heal the nations problems. It is so OBVIOUS and implied during the movie that the problems the country was facing at that time were enormous and that the game was more of a symbol and an idea of unification than anything else.
The acting, sound effects, editing an score are outstanding. Clint should be very proud of his lates film.