Director: Clint Eastwood Release Date: 5 February Review by Scott Murphy Nelson Mandela is one of the 20th Century’s political and humanitarian icons. In terms of his impact and popularity he is only rivalled by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He has led a long and extraordinary life but for those expecting the long awaited adaptation of Mandela’s autobiography, “The Long Walk to Freedom”, they will be sorely disappointed as this is a smaller scale, tighter sports drama which focuses on the Springboks victorious 1995 rugby world cup campaign. The film also marks another Oscar nomination for Clint Eastwood, who in later years has gone on an incredible directorial run which started with Mystic River in 2003, continuing with Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino and quite possibly his best picture yet, the war film, Letters from Iwo Jima. Clint has teamed back up with Morgan Freeman who Mandela has always said is who he would want to portray him. Although physically dissimilar to the man himself, Freeman is pitch perfect in the role, giving the proper air of gravitas. Well he has played god twice. He manages to imitate Mandela’s unique speech patterns and unusual gait with consummate ease. It is this brilliant performance that is the bedrock of the film. On the other hand, Matt Damon is not quite so assured in his role as South Africa’s captain, Francois Pienaar. It is certainly not a bad performance, and his South African accent is spot on but he seems to lack the inspiration and air of leadership Pienaar had. The film opens with a prologue which shows Mandela’s release in 1990. A white rugby team are playing on one side of a road while across the road we pan to black kids playing football on scrubland. As Mandela drives past, we see the rugby coach address the children and say: “Remember, this is the day our country went to the dogs”. This provides a powerful statement but once we get into the movie, set five years later when Mandela is president, we find a sporting drama with all the sentimentality and clichés that come with that. Mandela sees the Rugby World Cup as a chance for reconciliation and a rallying point for the “Rainbow Nation”. The whites love the rugby team while the blacks hate them, seeing their colours and anthem as symbols of the Apartheid. Using his political acumen he knows if you take the team away he will lose the white population. Mandela resolves to meet with the Springboks’ captain and effectively asks him to win the world cup, despite them being hugely unfancied. This leads to a traditional triumph over adversity plot structure. This does not mean it is a bad film though; much of it is entertaining and moving. Probably the best parts of the film are those that involve the sub-plot about the presidents black bodyguards led by Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge) who Nelson teams with a group of white former special branch officers who used to terrorise the black communities. While there is an obvious tension and mistrust at first this slowly thaws until they work as a unit, this segment is moving and never feels forced or manufactured. Some aspects do feel contrived though, especially the third act assassination plot. This was more than likely inserted to provide an element of dramatic frisson which the film decidedly lacks. Many will already know the outcome of the film and as there is a lack of a view of Mandela’s opposition, there are no real agitators to create that dramatic spark. Another problem that the film has is although the film is very well acted and handsomely shot it also seems to have a lot of Hollywood sheen in the picture, taking a page out the Ron Howard rulebook, which glosses over the complexities of the situation and the difficulty of Mandela’s first term. This is crystallised by a scene near the end where a street kid tries to listen to the final by listening in on a some policemen’s radio he is initially shunned but after the Springbok victory he is raised onto the policemen’s shoulders and you almost half expect it to come up with: “....And they all lived happily ever after”. Although this is more about the sport than Mandela, it feels disappointing that you never feel like you get any true insights, apart from the fact that it was the message of the WE Henley poem Invictus (yeah that is where the title comes from) that got him through his years in jail. As said it also ticks off all the sporting cliché’s you would expect from the anticipating crowd to slo-mo celebration. The rugby is as much of the focus as Mandela in this and it is beautifully staged and despite knowing the outcomes, these scenes remain exciting and entertaining, despite below par CGI work on the crowd. Although for those who do not like rugby, this is not your film as there is quite a bit of it throughout and the last 45 minutes of the film are almost entirely dominated by sequences of the games. This is a well acted and well-meaning piece and the type of film that will always catch the eye of the Academy. Certainly as a sports drama it is heart-warming and effective but you may leave feeling that for all its good points it does not live up to the legacy of its lead subject or the high directorial bar Eastwood has set for himself in the last decade. Photobucket