Well, Clint Eastwood is back again. This time he’s telling the story of the 1995 South African national rugby team. And, in Eastwood fashion, what we’ve got here is an enjoyable, competent, but incredibly formulaic, movie.
At first, Invictus is not quite sure what kind of movie it wants to be. It seems to be focusing on Nelson Mandela’s presidency and the difficulties he faced. But Mandela quickly recognizes the importance of the South African rugby team, the Springboks, and the movie shifts into a sports picture, going as far as to culminate in the big final game.
We’ve been waiting for Morgan Freeman to play Nelson Mandela for a long time, and he certainly lives up to the role. Matt Damon is just as reliable as ever, doing his best with the part of Francois Pienaar, the team captain. But my problem with the film is not the cast.
The story falls into this weird pattern of problem, inspiring Mandela speech, it works out. Potentially interesting subplots, like Mandela’s health or his family, are kind of pushed to the side. The other half of the story, the Springboks’ chase for the Rugby World Cup is the quintessential underdog sports story; they don’t have the experience or talent, but they are willing to work harder and blah, blah, blah. Frankly, I was kind of afraid that Invictus is the movie snob’s The Blind Side. But this movie is only slightly exploitative of its characters. And I’ll be the first to admit the rugby scenes are genuinely entertaining to watch, even though you know where they’re going.
The absolute worst part of the movie is this ridiculously bad song they play. It features lyrics like “it’s not just a game,” and the song itself is called “Colorblind,” I think. At least that was the chorus. Anyway, the song is so bad its embarrassing. I laughed. I’m certain if the theater I saw the movie in had more than old people (who were obviously very ill) in the audience they would have laughed too.
In the end, this movie feels like another squandered opportunity. Complex issues like racism and the healing process in South Africa are overly simplified, to the point that it feels like the Mandela scenes are just an exploitative waste of time. Maybe that’s what Eastwood had to do, since I’m guessing most Americans don’t know much about South African politics or the sport of rugby. Still, it’s sad to see a middling picture like this get more Oscar attention than something truly original, like Where the Wild Things Are.