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Invictus review

In his first historic term as President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), faces the tensions and divisions of a post apartheid nation, where whites and blacks are equally suspicious of the other. Mandela, who had survived 27 years in prison (clinging to the spiritual message of William Ernest Henley's poem, Invictus) believes that the South African white man's sport - rugby - can help bring his people closer together, so he makes it his mission, through the captain, Francois Pnnear (Matt Damon) to inspire and encourage the struggling Springboks to lift their game as they head for the 1995 Rugby World Cup - as the underdogs.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
"I've never believed that politics and international sport are unconnected to each other and that decisions in sport have no political impact. Next time you hear someone sprout that empty line, show them Invictus, Clint Eastwood's gripping, moving, sobering and highly entertaining film. Eastwood takes a chapter of Nelson Mandela's life (based on the book by John Carlin that documents it) because it's a great cinematic story. Mandela has just taken office as President of South Africa after the previous regime had convicted him of being a terrorist and kept him jailed for almost 30 years. The tables had turned - what would a black President do with his power?

Mandela's answer was to forgive the old South Africa for its numerous sins so as to forge a new South Africa free of fear and hatred. There is little in the annals of history to match such nobility (Gandhi aside) - nor is there a matching event in history in which sport played such a crucial role. The blacks of apartheid era South Africa had never barracked for the white dominated Springboks, whose colours and emblems stood for apartheid; Mandela had a fight on his hands to change that, as part of the process of national reconciliation.

The healing process that Mandela wanted to set in train is the central focus of Eastwood's film, in which a calm and measured Mandela - superbly portrayed by Morgan Freeman - leads by example, takes enormous political risks but knows he's right, and inspires a rugby team to exceed its own expectations - all because it nurtures the national spirit.

Of course it's easier to say than to do, but Eastwood does. Like Mandela, he knows where he wants to go and why. He knows what he wants to say and how. Every detail counts, much of it sharply memorable. And never has so much rugby been played on screen in front of my eyes without them glazing over; Eastwood weaves together the various themes of the story - and there are several - to orchestrate a moving account of those extraordinary days in 1995. It is inspiring still, even away from its original context."

Andrew Urban Urban Cinefile


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