11th February 1990, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is released from prison. Four years later, he is elected president of South Africa, and the man’s first objective is to unite the nation that has stood divided by apartheid for so long. A major symbol of the divisions is the country’s rugby team – the Springboks. Mandela chooses to use them as the spearhead for his campaign, and with the World Cup approaching, he invites the team’s captain, François Pienaar (Matt Damon), to the government palace for tea and to inspire the skipper to win the championship with his sceptical teammates for the whole country.
With the Rugby World Cup 2015 currently on our screens, it really seemed like no better time to finally get round to watching Invictus. I really enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s take on the true story of the breaking of apartheid as it was generally a very uplifting tale of how how sport can be used to communicate with the people and make changes for the better. It also addressed the very serious matter of apartheid and the problem Mandela faced when he first came to power without being too heavy-going.
Freeman’s performance as Mandela was beyond wonderful. He really channelled the late former president in this, and the man’s charm was evident in his performance. Freeman very clearly brought Mandela’s charisma forward in his portrayal and I thought it was great to see. It was also obvious how passionately Mandela felt about bringing racial divisions in South Africa to an end. I think that was very important – that what was actually at the heart of the events that took place in the film wasn’t forgotten about, but also wasn’t too heavily dwelled upon as the main focus for the film was the extremely positive changes that were brought about by the campaign.
Equally as brilliant was Matt Damon as the Springboks captain, François Pienaar, who was basically Mandela’s right hand man on this project. Damon transformed himself for his role as the South African number 6 and, like Freeman as Mandela, was totally believable as Pienaar. The man’s devotion to the president’s cause was unmeasurable, and the friendship the two men struck up was without a shadow of a doubt. It was another sturdy performance from Damon, and I can’t imagine anybody else pulling it off like he did.
I’m slightly in love with Eastwood’s style of directing. He doesn’t over-complicate things; he strips things right back to the very basics and builds from there. For me, it’s a great way to do things as it means that you can focus fully on the story that’s being told, and not have your attention stolen by any artistic flare other directors might have been tempted to add. Don’t get me wrong, there are times with some of my favourite directors that artistic flare is what I live for, however with a story such as that told in Invictus, what is important is the story and the message it carries with it.
All I all, I would highly recommend Invictus. As a rugby enthusiast, I had wanted to watch it for ages, but you don’t have to be a fan of the sport to enjoy the film, and I strongly believe that is where the magic of it all lies. It is a feat of cinema and one that will also reaffirm your faith in humanity.