Invictus Review: Who’s The Mandela?
Latin for ‘Unconquered’, Invictus is a confident title for a confident film. But for all its award nominations, have Clint Eastwood et al delivered with this ‘inspired from actual events’ story of South African sporting victory?
When Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) takes office in 1994, he works immediately to bring about the end of apartheid and racial tensions. He begins by employing black security officials to work alongside Afrikaners, resulting in some amusing scenes between the actors.
Freeman himself is the embodiment of Mandela – aside from the dodgy accent, he is wholly charismatic, emulating the president’s manner and poise to great effect, making him very watchable.
Less can be said for the other main characters, bound to fail in comparison. While Matt Damon – who plays captain of The Springboks rugby team Francois Pienaar – looks the part with muscles he probably never knew existed, his acting skills are sadly not as developed. Staring into the distance and shouting at his teammates (although with a decent accent) is the most the audience can expect from this actor, who lacks Freeman’s inherent charisma.
“I think he wants us to win the world cup!” Pienaar exclaims to his girlfriend in the car after a meeting with Mandela where we learn of the poem, ‘Invictus’, which helped Mandela “stand when all he wanted to do was lie down.”
Fear not for those who are unfamiliar with William Ernest Henley’s work; we hear it almost in slow-motion as Pienaar visits Robben Island and is shown the cell Mandela lived in for 27 years. More staring into the distance from Damon here as he imagines Mandela shoveling gravel (where it all starts to get a bit Shawshank), albeit capturing how Pienaar felt at that time.
The cheesy moments don’t end here; the plot screams ‘Hollywood’, after all. The victory scenes as The Springboks move towards the world cup final, Freeman’s contrived rhetoric (“There are 43 million people in my family”) and the ending, are surpassed only by the repetition of Mandela’s poem.
Overall then, a perfectly watchable film about an inspirational turning point in history but one not without fault. What the film makes up for in plot it lacks in depth (Freeman’s acting aside) and fails to leave a lasting effect on its audience. This is a shame, for a time that resonates so strongly with Mandela’s South Africa.