Movie Review: Invictus

If you check my Ratings Key, you will see that one of the criteria for a movie to get four stars is that it must be inspiring.

Invictus is inspiring on so many levels, in so many ways, I am overwhelmed with inspiration, I find it difficult to calm down and write about it, to focus and not come across blabbering from confusion and anxiety.

First, the story: As history shows, South African Nelson Mandela was imprisoned by the Apartheid regime for 27 years of his life, his young, strong, productive years, when the rest of us have careers, children, lives and enjoyment. Mandela was in prison, in a small cell during most of his time, and doing hard labor, the other time. Eventually he abides and gets released, and within a short time he is elected president of South Africa and serves from 1994 to 1999. He leads the country on a path to recovery, by forgiveness, kindness, inspiration and vision. One of the ways he applies his vision and inspiration is by motivating the national rugby team to win the rugby world championship. The movie starts with Mandela winning the office of the presidency and follows him through the achievement of the world cup. No spoilers here, it’s all in the history books.

The movie gets its title from the poem Invictus written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley. The poem gave Mandela purpose and strength during the endless years in prison, and he recites it as he imparts his story. He also uses it to inspire the captain of the rugby team.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman and if I were in charge of awarding Oscars, he would have got Best Actor last year for this rather than Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. There is no better actor in the world for this role than Freeman. This story was made for Morgan Freeman to play Mandela. The captain of the rugby team,  the Springboks, is Francois, played by Matt Damon. There was something about Damon in this movie that  made him look different enough from Damon that through the entire movie I kept thinking how much this actor looked like Matt Damon without realizing it was actually Damon. Call me obtuse. Watching Invictus took me away from the world, and I didn’t think about actors, roles, stories and my own world. I was simply distracted with inspiration.

I cannot remember an Eastwood movie that I didn’t consider excellent. Clint Eastwood, the awkward cowboy actor of the sixties has turned into an absolute powerhouse of movie making. Unlike many movie makers who dazzle us with technology, mystify us with plot twists and complexities that we can’t follow, shock us with violence, explosions and fire, Eastwood knows how to tell a story and make it so meaningful in a human way that it inspires us. Eastwood movies drive tears to my eyes during the unlikeliest scenes.

Of course, Nelson Mandela is one of the great figures of the twentieth century, right up there with Martin Luther King, FDR, JFK, Gandhi and Winston Churchill. His life has inspired many a movie, book and biography. To capture the essence of a man so large and so overpowering in a movie lasting but a couple of hours, the story is wrapped around the underdog rugby team ‘the Springboks.’ As we have learned from countless sports movies, including the Rocky series and many others, sports movies work in inspiring, just like sports itself works. The large impossible task of running a country and leading it from ruin to greatness is compressed into the task of inspiring a sports team to win the world cup. As the champions grow and win, so the nation follows.

I don’t understand rugby. There are a lot of rugby scenes in Invictus, and they always consist of big thugs with British accents colliding like American football players, but without any padding and helmets. We hear the grunts and the crashes of bone against bone, skull against chest, and we wonder how anybody survives a game of rugby. After watching this, I am thankful I never once had to play that game. I have no broken parts.

In the end, I cheered the Springboks as they won, and when the credits rolled and victory swept South Africa, and the African soundtrack kept playing, I didn’t want the music to end and I didn’t want the victory to stop.

Rating: ****

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