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Film Four Stars
I am a huge fan of Clint Eastwood's films and direction. I love the slow, studied way he reveals his characters and story, and so I was excited for Invictus. At the same time I approached the film with a little trepidation. This was a big moment in South African history, world politics and sport, and I wondered if Eastwood would over sentimentalise it or give the story the weight and insight it deserves.

For the issues of Nelson Mandela coming to the presidency and the reconciliation of the country are complex and multi-faceted, but then so have many topics that Eastwood has tackled in the past. So what of Invictus?

Plot.pngInvictus.jpgThe story is taken from actual events and tells how the country of South Africa was struggling to deal with life after Apartheid. Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and elected president, and was trying to pull the country together to be as one nation. It was a difficult task, and with the 1995 Rugby World Cup coming to South Africa as the host nation, he saw a glimmer of hope.

The team weren't playing well and losing pretty consistently, and those on charge of the team, the colours the name and even François Pienaar, the team captain, was in doubt of keeping their places for the Cup.

However Mandela saw that if he could rally the nation behind the team, and the team could win, there would be something for them to fight for as a nation, and it wasn't each other.

Yet there was an absolute mountain to climb, and prejudices were deep rooted within the divided nation, and for the team.

TheFilm.pngLet me start by allaying any fears about the film. It's a very good one, and well worth going to see. Clint Eastwood manages to capture the audience's hearts once again, as he does with all his films, and easily takes your emotions through the highs and lows of the story.

In the final he manages to take you right through the emotions of your own favourite team playing a world cup final of whatever sport you might follow. It's quite surprising the way you realise how behind the team you actually are and how much your heart is in the South African team winning.

There was much more rugby in the film than I expected, and that's a good thing, for Eastwood really handles the scenes in the game well. On the way to the final we are shown key sequences of each of the games, sequences that define the battle and tell the story of each economically and succinctly.

For the final itself he recreates and shows much more of the game, pulling out key points and some battles between the All Blacks and the Springboks, managing to show some of the challenge, determination and the power in them. You are on the edge of your seat, wondering if they are going to make each point, even knowing the outcome. The final is indeed the most important part of the film and is where all the work comes together.

Away from the rugby the film concentrates on a few key areas. The main focus being between Mandela and Piennar, a relationship that seems quite distanced except for a few meetings and that's where I thought this relationship would be stronger. I was convinced that we would see more of the two characters talking with Mandela inspiring Piennar more, or at least more of Piennar interpreting that inspiration through to the game.

It also seems to concentrate on the security teams that protect Mandela, showing a key point of the story that I don't think the film portrays that well, the reconciliation of blacks and whites behind the nation. It does on the larger level of the crowds and the supporters, but on this smaller level it seems to miss quite a number of moments.

When the all black security team for Mandela arrive at the presidential buildings they are thrown together with the ex-policemen, the white officers who may well have been responsible for crimes against the black South Africans, while they in turn may well have been fighting against them for all this time, yet they were expected to work together instantly and protect the president. They do this, focusing on the job in hand but we're shown the tension from the beginning.

There are some good moments where we see the team begin to come together, and where both start to do things that were once taboo to them. However while we see some of this internal battle and coming together, it did seem to all happen too quickly and they resolved their differences rather neatly. Mind you, the moment of them playing rugby together while they were waiting for Mandela does reflect the changes well.

This is one of the aspects that I felt deserved a little more depth and exploration, and without them made the film a much lighter one than I had expected and wanted.
We had a little mention of the family problems that Mandela faced at the time and the pressures of state, but neither felt too much for him to cope with and were definitely presented in a lighter tone than I had thought history would show.

Piennar's father is shown as carrying a lot of the ingrained prejudices that we're told the game and Mandela's presidency had to overcome, and yet they seem to fall away so easily. From the negative comments he gave to the screen appearances of Mandela, to the embracing of taking their black maid to the final, it seemed a little too easy for him to combat those prejudices.

There was a lack of Piennar coaching and inspiring the team, and one of those areas I missed was some form of half time speech. Perhaps there wasn't one for the team in real life, and perhaps the film was just staying true to the actual events, I'm not sure, but it did seem a little strange. The biggest rousing moment seemed to be the early on beer speech, and then after that they seemed to be left to their own devices. The moment of handing out the anthem to the team and seeing their reactions with Piennar walking away just didn't come close to it. Again though, this may have been just what happened.

Another aspect was the early mention of the practice Piennar had in the bus on the journey to each game, leaving the team with their own thoughts and then using a moment to inspire them, and when this felt that it had come to the natural moment to bring it back in for the story, it didn't, even with the previous mention of the anthem and the poem, there's nothing to reference it again.

Then there's the moment in the empty stadium before the game. Not wanting to reveal anything, but something is shown ever so quickly here that is referenced a little later before the final. It's a rather dramatic aspect of the latter half of the film but here it happens so quickly that it's easy to miss the connection. This is something that I feel harks back to the first half of the story, where the editing is sharp, much more than a usual Eastwood film. Yet I can see why this is the case, because there's much more time needed for the final game itself.

Something else that seemed quite odd about the film and turned away from what I expected from Eastwood, was the moment where the presidential helicopter lands in the training fields of the Springboks and we're treated to a pop song. The moment pushed me right out of the film and felt like there was a completely different score and film than I had been, and was going to finish, watching.

Okay, I've gotten the parts of the film that I thought were bad out of the way, and let's not detract from all the good I've mentioned so far, the emotionally strong story, the Eastwood direction, the rallying final game, it's all really good, and there's more.

People may be praising Morgan Freeman's Nelson Mandela performance above anything, but I didn't find it as strong as Matt Damon's performance. He was utterly convincing and very engaging. Freeman was very good, but I think Damon did the better job in the film and that's something to savour. Freeman is a difficult actor to play against because he is so compelling and commands the screen so easily, so Damon should be proud of his performance.

The supporting actors are strong too, and that's something that shouldn't be overlooked either. Tony Kgoroge as the head of Mandela's security Jason Tshabalala was just one of many that deserves a mention.

Overall.pngThere are a lot of things that I don't feel connected in the film, or that weren't examined deeply enough for the story considering the subject matter. Invictus may be billed as a true story, but it doesn't do the truth justice, for the real story has much more depth and complexity to it.

That said, the film does a great job of delivering an emotionally charged and inspiring story that touches on many aspects of the reconciliation of South Africa. Primarily it feels like a sporting film, but that's not meant as a negative.

With the power of performances from Freeman and Damon, and the great direction from Eastwood, Invictus delivers a film that makes you feel and believe in something very deeply, and recreates the 1995 rugby world cup final superbly.

It isn't the strongest of Eastwood films, but it is still a very strong film and one that beats most of what's being delivered at the moment. I'd suggest watching it, and for those who want to delve deeper into the events and the history, then the book that inspired it will be a great follow up.

Buy the film and book from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
UK IMDB Film Details



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