out of Five
Running time: 134
Watchable, solidly made feelgood drama that delivers everything the trailer promises but there are no surprises, Freeman's not quite as good as you'd expect and the sugar-coating is laid on a little too thick.
What's it all about?
Based on the book by John Carlin and directed by Clint Eastwood, Invictus stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, who's elected as South Africa's first democratically elected president four years after his release from spending 27 years as a political prisoner. The white South Africans fear violent repercussions and many of the black South Africans seem to want revenge but Mandela is keenly aware that South Africa needs to unite as a country if political stability is to be achieved.
In a stroke of genius, Mandela focuses his attention on the Springbok rugby team (a symbol of white rule, largely loathed by the black majority) and attempts to convince team captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) of the political importance of the nation uniting behind a South African victory at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. But can they actually win?
Eastwood's direction is solid and dependable throughout and the film is never less than watchable but it's also thuddingly predictable and there's nothing in the film that you don't immediately know from watching the trailer. Damon is excellent, as always, but he's not really called upon to do much except be blandly inspirational, though you have to admire his commitment to bulking up for the part.
Conversely, Freeman's not nearly as good as his Oscar nomination would suggest – his attempt at Mandela's accent seems weird and mannered and it's frequently distracting as a result. Similarly, the film's sugar-coating of events is a little too hard to take in places – for example, it seems far-fetched that Mandela's white security team wouldn't display any bigotry whatsoever towards their new black colleagues.
On top of that, the film takes a few liberties with the truth, such as leaving out the fact that the New Zealand team apparently had food poisoning during the final, while you also get the feeling there are more interesting stories being left on the sidelines, such as the role of the team's only black player, Chester Williams (McNeil Hendricks).
Invictus is a solid retelling of an undeniably inspirational story but it's unforgivably bland in places and you can't help thinking that it might have worked a lot better as a documentary.