(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: CAPSULE: Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in Clint Eastwood's story of how Nelson Mandela used rugby football to unite a South Africa that some say was on the verge of civil war. Mandela urges the captain of the national rugby team, the Springboks, to mold his team into one that can win the World Cup. The story is just a little too straightforward and predictable with Eastwood apparently too anxious to concentrate on too much detail of the final game. Anthony Peckham's screenplay, based on the book by John Carlin, tells its predictable story without putting too much spin on the ball. But if the story is obvious, at least Eastwood makes it sufficiently rousing and at the same time a spiritual experience. Some viewers may have problems understanding the South African accents. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

In 1994 Nelson Mandela, formerly an anti-apartheid political prisoner for 27 years, was elected President of South Africa. Many who supported apartheid believed that the country would fall apart under the race hatred between the blacks and the whites. Some even wanted or expected civil war. Mandela could have taken his election as a mandate and implemented a policy that would have been "winner-take-all". Instead he wanted desperately to unite his country. He refused to oust whites from their offices and chose to forget the past and continue the government in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is not mentioned in the film but Mandela made as his deputy Frederik Willem de Klerk, the former President, and Mandela's one-time political enemy.

One of the symbols of apartheid was the entirely white (with one exception) national rugby team, the Springboks. In the earlier days the whites of the country always rooted for the Springboks; the blacks, including Mandela, always rooted against them. His own party supported disbanding the team, at this point a losing team anyway. Mandela saw he might be able to use the team to unite blacks and whites. He encouraged Francois Pienaar, the team captain, to forge his team into a winning force that could take the Rugby World Cup the following year. INVICTUS is the story of Mandela's political efforts to heal South Africa and of the team's efforts to remold itself into a winning team.

There is no question at all where this film is going from the beginning. It is one of the most standard plots in film to show why it is important for the team of losers to win and then have the story build up to the "big game." In this case it really happened that way in real life. In MILLION DOLLAR BABY Eastwood took a standard sports plot and then did things entirely original with it. And in that film the fight sequences were relatively brief. Here he does little that would surprise anyone with a passing knowledge of Mandela's story.

Actually INVICTUS is two related films: one of Mandela's struggle to unite his country and one of the team preparing for and playing the World Cup game. The sports story is strictly by the numbers, building to an extended dramatization of the crucial game. This is a lot like any number of films about American football, but the sport is rugby so there is a real surfeit of shots of players piling up on each other with the camera filming their most unflattering angle. Pienaar (played by Matt Damon, who has the build of an athlete and does a good South African accent) brings little to the role that some deserving lesser-known South African actor could not have. Of course the real star is Morgan Freeman who just occasionally sounds like he slips out of his affected South African accent. He looks the role and does a good job, though probably not much of a stretch from his usual man-of-great- dignity characters.

The film follows three or four mixed-race groups of people. At the beginning each still has the spirit of apartheid, but as the film progresses they come closer together ignoring their racial differences. For example, we see Mandela's mixed-race team of bodyguards with the blacks and white wanting nothing to do with each other. But by the end of the film they are close friends playing ball together.

The story here is as predictable as would be another production of "Hamlet", but it is cogently told and rousing. In spite of its obvious, but historically accurate, arc I rate INVICTUS a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. It is probably more than simple coincidence that Eastwood is making this film at this time. I think this film is more than Eastwood just giving us a profile in courage. There are obvious parallels to another man who is the first black President of his own divided country and who working hard to bring together his supporters and his former political rivals in a spirit that was perhaps inspired by Nelson Mandela.

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The title of the film comes from the poem that Mandela found meaningful and which he used to strengthen himself during his long years of confinement. For those who want the poem, here is "Invictus" by English poet William Ernest Henley. The title is Latin for "unconquered".

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper