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INVICTUS (director/writer: Clint Eastwood; screenwriters: Anthony Peckham/based on the book “Playing the Enemy” by John Carlin; cinematographer: Tom Stern; editors: Joel Cox/Gary D. Roach; music: Michael Stevens/Kyle Eastwood; cast: Morgan Freeman (Nelson Mandela), Matt Damon (Francois Pienaar), Tony Kgoroge (Jason Tshabalala), Julian Lewis Jones (Etienne Feyder), Adjoa Andoh (Brenda Mazibuko), Patrick Mofokeng (Linga Moonsamy), Matt Stern (Hendrick Booyens), Leleti Khumalo (Mary), Marguerite Wheatley (Nerine); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Clint Eastwood/Robert Lorenz/Lori McCreary/Mace Neufeld; Warner Bros. Pictures; 2009)
“Morgan Freeman makes for a remarkable Nelson Mandela.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title is Latin for “unconquerable” and comes from an 1875 poem by British writer William Ernest Henley that inspired Nelson Mandela when he was in prison. Mandela says his spirits were kept up by such words as “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Clint Eastwood (“Gran Torino”/”Unforgiven”/”Space Cowboys”) expertly directs this stately tale of Nelson Mandela being released from 27 years in prison in 1990 and becoming president of South Africa in 1994. Mandela opts to unite the once segregated country into one rainbow nation of blacks and whites. Facing major problems economically, Mandela schemes to unite the country through rugby by getting the entire nation behind the South African green and gold Springboks team (a symbol of Apartheid) and gets its apolitical blond captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), on board for this mission to win in 1995 the rugby World Cup.

It reaches its sports triumphal climax as the match game between New Zealand and South Africa is played in front of 62,000 fans at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium, with a cheering Mandella in attendance. The game covers the film’s last 18 minutes.

Filmed in a predictable, didactic and conventional manner, it tends to get tedious at times and curiously leaves much out that’s negative about those times (including anything about Mandela’s divorced wife). Nevertheless, it’s always an elegant inspirational story that’s filled with intriguing historical details and is played out with conviction. It has the almost saintly wise man Mandela exert all his energy to take a modifying middle-ground on extremists from both the black and white communities to ease the tension. Shot in a naturalistic documentary tone and presented in an earnest straightforward manner, which makes it hard to not take delight in its rosy outlook and that once again in Hollywood sports movies cliches become a metaphor for life. But its best feature is that Morgan Freeman makes for a remarkable Nelson Mandela, the Man himself couldn’t have come up with a better performance of himself. Damon also excels. He’s most convincing as a rugby player, and scores heavily in that athletic role.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”