Released from prison and newly elected South Africa’s President, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) faces the challenge of bringing unity to the divided nation.
Using the slogan “One Team, One Country”, he decides to try out a very unorthodox approach which is to unite black and white South Africa by winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Whilst he deals with the country ravaged by apartheid, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) is left to inspire the rugby team to victory, which after their run of defeats, appears to be a mission impossible.
On seeing the trailer, I envisioned this movie as having the potential to be the next ‘Remember The Titans’. It certainly had similar themes such as using sport to conquer racial inequality. However, it would be hard for it to be as great and inspiring a masterpiece as ‘Remember The Titans’, and having seen the film, I decided it had failed.
Morgan Freeman has played the American President and God in previous roles, so he had no difficulty in presenting Mandela as the inspirational and widely respected leader that he is. Matt Damon also dons a South-African accent to effectively play the Springbok captain. The real focus, however, is Freeman who brings to life Mandela’s charismatic character with conviction. He is portrayed as a ‘man with a man’s problems’ and as the audience are given occasional glimpses into his imperfect family life, it drives home how credible a hero he really is and the stuff he suffered through which might have made him almost feel like he never really left Robben Island penitentiary at all.
The segregation is at points almost comical to an audience that has no knowledge of the hardships of apartheid. It is also presented very effectively through a bunch of little subplots that continue throughout the movie: Mandela as the black President and Pienaar as the white Rugby Captain, Pienaar’s family household and their black maid, the almost all-white South African rugby team and the mixed black and white other international teams that they play. However, the most important and effective of these subplots is about the relationships between the bodyguards. Mandela starts off by being accompanied by his fanatical black bodyguards, but after his request, their white enemies from the old SS/police are brought in to also guard the President and have equal standing amongst his employees. The way they sort out their differences and bond throughout the movie is a very effective way of representing the breaking of the apartheid.
However, this movie has to be looked at from a rugby perspective, seeing as the rugby World Cup is one of the integral plot lines. Many of my rugby team-mates had seen the film before me and all had said that it was a shocking portrayal of the game that spoilt the movie. On seeing ‘Invictus’, I had to agree. The coverage of the rugby itself is both appalling and embarrassing. The sound effects in the final are frankly ridiculous and laughable. McNiel Hendriks (who plays Chester, the only black South African player), was the rugby director for this film and together with American director Clint Eastwood, they succeeded only in making a mess of a historical sporting past-time which is presented in the film from a perspective of people who clearly don’t understand it.
In fact, the only redeemable thing about the rugby in this film is the actual footage of the New Zealand vs England game from the 1995 World Cup, which is used to show what an awesome threat All Black’s player Jonah Lomu represents. If Eastwood and Hendriks had based the rugby on these brief clips then the film would have been just as exciting and brutal as a real life game of rugby. I also think they should have cast actual rugby players and club teams as the international teams that South Africa play during the movie because this would have helped the rugby to be much more fluid and realistic than it was in the film.
Therefore, the atmosphere of the film is definitely affected by this failure on the behalf of the directors. Whilst the lead up to the World Cup Final is certainly stirring and inspiring, the spirit of the game and the play is just not there. This is where ‘Invictus’ falls short, especially when compared to masterpieces such as ‘Any Given Sunday’ and ‘Remember The Titans’. Although the presentation of Mandela’s fight against racial inequality is both heart-warming and effective, the film remains a disappointment to all viewers who go along hoping to see a decent sports movie. ‘Invictus’ is definitely not a terrible movie and is worth a watch; but it fails in key areas that it needed to succeed in.