Invictus (2009)

Invictus (2009)
  • Time: 134 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | History
  • Director: Clint Eastwood
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Tony Kgoroge


The film tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s rugby team as they make their historic run to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship match.


  • Because of his recent death, we decided it would be fit for us to try and honour the memory of Nelson Mandela by reviewing one of the many movies about his life. Even though there is much controversy surrounding his life and actions (great people are rarely not controversial), the majority of people still consider him an icon, a great politician and an extremely important figure in South African history. Invictus depicts Mandela’s life after being released from prison, but since showing all the things he had done while president of South Africa would be impossible and make the movie a mess, it was decided to concentrate the story on the South African rugby team.

    After spending 27 years in prison for sabotage and conspiracy, and finally being released, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is chosen as the president of South Africa. His mission is extremely difficult: to end apartheid and unite the people. He sees his opportunity in the South African rugby team, the Springboks, which is losing all of its games. As the team is a symbol of oppression (only white people cheer for it), the Sports Commission wants to change its colors and name. Mandela, unexpectedly, decides to back up the Springboks and opposes this decision: he doesn’t want Afrikaners to believe Mandela wants to rid South Africa of their presence. He wants the nation to feel as one again by cheering for the same team.

    A lot of research and hard work was put into this movie: Clint Eastwood, the director, started watching so much rugby for the movie he ended up being a fan, Matt Damon interviewed Francois Pienaar and trained rugby, and Freeman, who had been Mandela’s friend for many years, went to South Africa to get his blessing for the movie – which he gained. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t turn out to be as good as one would expect. One thing that bothered me is that, no matter what a great job Freeman did and the effort and hard work he put in preparing his role, I could rarely ‘feel’ Mandela – it was just Freeman acting, though masterfully. Moreover, I felt the movie was too long and got tedious from time to time, especially when showing teams playing rugby: I know that’s what the movie is about, but it could have been made more interesting, especially for people who don’t understand the game.

    On the other hand, I thought it was an excellent decision to show how the relationships between black and white members of Mandela’s security staff develop: Mandela forces them to work together and overcome their animosities, showing that people can change and, maybe most importantly, even a small change is (and was, for Mandela) crucial. It would have been nice to see more of Matt Damon’s character, but he mostly plays rugby during the movie. Still, it is somewhat understandable: this movie is, after all, about Nelson Mandela, and what a huge inspiration and powerful politician he was. It is also about the good side of sports: there is no violence and flare-throwing silliness here, only excitement and the feeling of unity a nation like South Africa needed very much.

    Rating: 7/10

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  • Clint Eastwood is on a scoring streak. Since Mystic River (2003), he has made one excellent film after another, some of them near-masterpieces such as Million Dollar Baby (2004), Letters From Iwo Jima (2006), and Changeling (2008).

    Even at an extraordinary age of eighty, he continues to direct one film per year, and receives a deservedly fair share of critical accolades for each. His economical style of directing is admired and his contribution to American cinema revered.

    In Invictus, the great director tackles Nelson Mandela, not as a biopic but as an inspirational drama with Morgan Freeman anchoring the lead role as the ‘visionary thinker’ rather than as the ‘reverent leader’ whom we all come to know, using rugby to unite South Africans in a progressive strategy to bring the country to political, economic, and social order after the ravages of apartheid. Here the focus is on sports, or more specifically, the 1995 Rugby World Cup held in Mandela’s homeland.

    Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, the captain of the South African rugby team, who leads by example after a meeting with Mandela who covertly hints him to win the World Cup to unite his countrymen despite the possibility of facing strong squads such as England or New Zealand.

    And boy they did.

    Based on true events, Invictus manages to faithfully recreate the stunning atmosphere of the occasion through CG technology. Similar to Ridley Scott’s rendering of the spectators in the Colosseum in Gladiator (2000), Eastwood brings ‘crowd’ realism to another level by taking advantage of the technological advancement (nearly a decade’s worth) in visual effects.

    While the excellent portrayals of the characters by Freeman and Damon are moments to savor, Invictus sometimes becomes too by-the-book; the screenplay structure turns out to be more rigid than expected, following the generic formula of most underdog sport movies.

    Towards the final quarter, the film becomes an exercise in ‘repetitive physical motions’ – rugby players from both sides chasing after the ball, and slamming into each other in slow motion. Haven’t we seen all this before? At the very least, Eastwood directs these scenes well. But I long for the day a director could film a sports event with a fresh perspective (both visually and textually).

    In general, Invictus is a well-made picture. It is solid and as valuable as any top-notch genre film about an underdog fighting to the top, or exhibiting sporting excellence through the power of inspiration and perspiration i.e. Rocky (1976), Chariots of Fire (1981) etc.

    However, it is not as potent a picture as Eastwood’s other works. The main problem (apart from other flaws), I feel, lies in the film’s split focus on Mandela, and (then) the South African rugby team. Invictus thus becomes a film of two halves, a mental tussle between two important subjects trying hard to have a substantial slice of the viewer’s attention. But still, worth a look though.

    GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)
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