Invictus (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Length: 134 minutes
Grade: B-CAC+=C+
Budget: $60 million
Box Office: $133 million (37 U.S., 85 Intl., 11 DVD)

Written by: Anthony Peckham (Sherlock Holmes), based on the book by John Carlin (Die Hard 4)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Changeling, Letters from Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers, Million Dollar Baby, and 30 other movies everyone must watch)
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

Just released from prison, newly elected President of South Africa Nelson Mandela tries to unite a racially divided nation through rugby as his country hosts the World Cup.

Entertainment Value: B-
Despite strong performances (as always) from Freeman and Damon, this fell flat for me. It was not one of Eastwood’s greatest films by far. Nevertheless, the basic context and plot kept me from being too bored. Cry Freedom (with Denzel Washington, way back when) was much better as a movie about South Africa, and many other films have been much better sports dramas. I think the two biggest things bothering me here were Damon’s accent (fine, but obviously not his own) and the total lack of explanation for the gameplay of rugby. (Embarrassing admission: I originally thought this was a movie about soccer, until I saw the funny ball and the lack of pretend injuries.) Any sports movie has to finely tread the line between boring aficionados and condescending to the uninformed, but a rugby movie for Americans should lean more to the latter. This didn’t, and that left many of the rugby scenes without much impact for me. “Oh, look, a scrum.” “What’s a scrum?” “I don’t know.” “Why do they do it?” “I don’t know.” “Shouldn’t this movie be helping us out, here?” “Yes, I wish it would.” The funny part is I know rugby better than most Americans since I worked with a New Zealander who loved the Allblacks. So imagine how much worse for the completely ignorant!

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B+, Violence B+, Language C-
Bare-chested men, an implied sex encounter between a man and his wife, and some beer consumption. Sports violence and the ongoing worry about political assassination. The really frustrating thing about this movie is it could EASILY have been PG except for one totally unnecessary F-word and a handful of S-words. It’s a shame, almost like a lapse in judgment, really. PG-11 is about right, but be aware of the profanity.

Significant Content: A
This is really a movie about Mandela under the pretext of being a movie about rugby, which seems to be Eastwood’s recent modus operandi (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, etc.) In any case, the lessons about politics, compromise, offering hope and understanding to your enemies, are all good. Mandela (a Christian, possibly Methodist, in real life) extends grace, surprising people with compassion, restraint, and generosity. He leads by example in all these regards. He teaches that forgiveness removes fear and liberates the soul. Sport can lead to unity and break the cycle of fear. I don’t know whether Eastwood is a Christian, but if he isn’t, he sure preaches well what he doesn’t believe. This movie even finishes with a prayer!

Artistic/Thought Value: C+
Partially because I can’t fully endorse the sports-triumph side of this movie and partially because I think Eastwood has done such better work elsewhere. Also, I was too aware of the music at times. The Christian messages of applied grace are good, and I particularly loved the idea that the blacks now in power should extend courtesy to the whites by not taking away their rugby team’s traditional colors.

Discussion Questions:
~Mandela is challenged for expending his valuable political capital on preserving the green and gold colors for the Springboks when there are so many other significant issues to deal with. Does history vindicate this decision? What did Mandela know about sport and race that his advisors did not?
~Does Mandela do what he does in this movie purely for political reasons or is he motivated by his personal love of rugby? Do you think he got lucky or was wise?
~Compare Mandela with other historical figures who persevered and endured jail and oppression to win justice for their people.
~In what ways is sport uniting? In what ways can it be divisive? Compare the actions of Mandela in this movie with the behavior of LeBron James, for instance.
~Can you think of any lessons President Obama might take from Nelson Mandela in terms of bridging the racial divide in the United States? Are there any sports that fit the place of rugby in South Africa in this movie?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Mandela leading the assembly to preserve the Springboks.
~The first day with the multi-racial bodyguards.
~Visiting the jail.
~The final match.

Overall Grade: C+
Adequate, and I was fascinated to encounter a story I had never heard of before. I guess a billion people can watch something and a 24-year-old kid in the United States might never hear of it.

No comments: