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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Matt Damon
Morgan Freeman
Tony Kgoroge
Marguerite Wheatley
Adjoa Andoh .
Directors
Clint Eastwood.
Screenwriters
Anthony Peckham.
Running Time
133 minutes

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Invictus
Clint Eastwood presides over rugby union like a granite-faced John Inverdale


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Plot
Struggling to make headway with mending a divided country, President Mandela (Freeman) fixes upon the idea of South Africa winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup to unite white and black. So he gives their captain, Francois Pienaar (Damon), a call.


Review
Invictus
On May 30, Clint Eastwood will be 80 years old. Not that it’s stopping him. Compared to the tortoise-gallop of a stripling like Ridley Scott, he’s going gangbusters on a creative run that averages two films a year, four Oscar nominations a ceremony and $143 million per film in worldwide box office. Only Pixar, Alex Ferguson and Marks & Spencer desserts can match such doggone consistency. And it’s not like he’s sticking to safe ground; throughout the big man’s magnificent autumnal years, he’s cartwheeled between themes and genres, willing, it seems, to try anything. Now comes the impressively improbable combo of Nelson Mandela’s testy first years fixing South Africa and the posh-boy mania of rugby union’s World Cup.


As you would expect, the result is noble, elegant, warm-hearted (a quality he increasingly holds dear) and dedicated to Anthony Peckham’s solidly faithful adaptation of John Carlin’s book. Eastwood is the polar opposite of a James Cameron, paring everything down to a crisp seriousness. There’s no need to show off, but nothing feels less than expert. He’s like an established author, relaxed in his talent, no longer thinking about how he writes, only what story he should tell. Invictus is mature, unfussy moviemaking on the kind of historical canvas that gives the Academy a hot flush. But, for once, there seems something slightly disengaged, a professional job rather than something as resonant as Unforgiven or Gran Torino, or as powerful as Letters From Iwo Jima or Million Dollar Baby. It doesn’t feel grand.

Morgan Freeman is 72, playing a 76 year-old Nelson Mandela. He’s been hankering after a chance to fill the soft shoes of the former inmate of Robben Island-turned-President and symbol of virtue triumphant. And when a full biopic of Mandela’s lengthy autobiography, The Long Walk To Freedom, failed to materialise, here was an interesting alternative — a passionate human drama subtly inserted into a classically styled sports movie. And given his Unforgiven/Million Dollar Baby alumnus, Eastwood was willing to direct (with Freeman as executive producer). It was time to test-drive those Eastern Cape plosives.

Channelling the statesmanlike grandeur that has enabled him to play God, US President and philosopher-pugilist Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris, Freeman takes Mandela in his stride. He has perfected that oddly inelegant diction: soft, slow, studied and full of drafty pauses like a Yorkshireman or Ent. He has the lolloping gait, hands hanging loose at his sides — the self-aware body language that 27 years of imprisonment gives you. Caricature can rear its ugly head when chancing distinctive public figures, but Freeman does more than imitate the great man. He absorbs him, then, like Anthony Hopkins’ Nixon, pours forth an emotionally cogent version. His Mandela. You couldn’t ask for more, but the saw-it-coming fit of star and hero somehow flattens the impact.

To be fair, the film doesn’t grant him the latitude of a biopic. There are only glimpses of a mischievous charm with the ladies, the shards of a broken family and a whimsical fondness for that English delectation of afternoon tea. You hunger for something stronger: the whisky jolt of his lengthy prison years, a sense of the momentousness of his achievements, rather than this microcosm of his renowned canniness.

Wise to the slipstreams of politics, Mandela — “Madiba” to his delirious followers — made what would seem, certainly to his black heartland, an entirely counter-intuitive decision: to embrace the loathed Springbok rugby team as a symbol for the future unity of his country. Draped in Apartheid’s despised green and gold, and with only a single black player, they embodied the old guard and the bleak years of Afrikaner oppression. South Africa’s black population preferred playing soccer on the bare patches of sandy earth in the scrap-iron townships. Eastwood shoots on-location with pragmatic insistence, cheering whatever team is currently thrashing the nation’s indifferent huddle of egg-chasers.

For the far-thinking President, the real prize was, against all the odds, to win the rugby World Cup, to be held in South Africa. Here was a filmmaker’s cunning — images, the imprimatur of glorious acts, work faster and cut deeper than the churn of rhetoric. What do movies fire on, if not the intuitive power of symbols? And who more than Eastwood has revelled in the crowd-pleasing moment?

Mandela was incisive enough — and it makes the film’s smartest angle — to realise the economy, industry, police, army, all the vital organs of the nation, were still in white hands. The future needed co-operation. It’s a “human calculation” he insists, wrinkling his eyes wryly, daring any opposition. Politics needs teamwork as much as free-flowing rugby. Parallels abound. Sport is a version of life, and politics a kind of sport.

In a humorous subplot, Mandela determines to mix his stern black bodyguards with the white security detail who used to protect De Klerk. For their strutting showdowns, Eastwood lines them up, eyeballing each other across the office, as if about to scrum down.

Matt Damon is now 39 years of age and appears able to do anything. Or, at the very least, work with anyone. He can now add Eastwood to a CV that reads like a Santa list of dream directors: Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, Soderbergh, Minghella, Redford, Van Sant, Greengrass, Gilliam… He has fashioned that oxymoronic quality, the normal superstar, to a fine art. Whatever the role, he doesn’t intrude rather than quietly embody his character. Even so, there are De Niro-like levels of immersion going on here: in a matter of months he dropped the slack-bellied, bum-fluffed goofiness of The Informant!’s Mark Whitacre to look and sound exactly like the blond-topped, beefcake South African rugby captain. If Freeman’s Mandela is the film’s head, then Damon’s Francois Pienaar is its heart. His journey to enlightenment, a flux of quiet epiphanies and do-or-die rallying calls, comes with calm authority and a half-decent spiral pass.

Understandably, Eastwood skirts unravelling the subtleties of binding in at the scrum or the filigree variances between ruck and mall, opting to shoot rugby as a form of everysport. Although, you can feel his granite-grin at Pienaar’s blunt tactic for bringing down New Zealand’s super-human winger, Jonah Lomu, a primal collision of Usain Bolt and the Terminator: “Just hold on — help will come!” “They are a special breed of cat,” the director himself noted, applauding the lack of girlie helmet, pads and extended knickers. Keeping his camera knee-high, or at grass-level in the heated cauldron of the scrum, he gives it a familiar fervour, chopping between scrabbles of hectic play, intransient scoreboards and unconvincing crowd shots. It’s a better fit to movies than soccer’s whirligig intricacies, but anyone ignorant of the game will come out convinced it simply involves thick-bodied hulks crashing into one another while elfin on-lookers just aim to kick the ball between the posts. The great final versus the Kiwis’ invincible (and ironically nicknamed) All Blacks, where Mandela’s dream is met with a dramatic last-gasp triumph, was in truth a tight, ingloriously defensive saga without a try to its name. Not that that stops Eastwood wringing every inspirational sentiment he can out of it.


Verdict
Eastwood hits all the right notes in exactly the right order, but it’s his least personal film for a while.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Invictus
Empire Star Rating

RE: Invictus Review

I thought this was really poor. It wasn't till the credits rolled that I saw it was an Eastwood film, and I was quite shocked that he had filmed something so mawkish and unsubtle, not to mention badly shot and edited. Plus the rugby was filmed by someone who doesn't understand the game. Poor Matt Damon had nothing to do, except probably cringe at the acting abilities of his team mates. In fact, the more I type, the angrier I'm getting so I'll leave it there before I start slagging off Million-D... More

Posted by lovewych at 15:59, 04 May 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus Review

I thought this was really poor. It wasn't till the credits rolled that I saw it was an Eastwood film, and I was quite shocked that he had filmed something so mawkish and unsubtle, not to mention badly shot and edited. Plus the rugby was filmed by someone who doesn't understand the game. Poor Matt Damon had nothing to do, except probably cringe at the acting abilities of his team mates. In fact, the more I type, the angrier I'm getting so I'll leave it there before I start slagging off Million-D... More

Posted by lovewych at 15:59, 04 May 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus Review

I thought this was really poor. It wasn't till the credits rolled that I saw it was an Eastwood film, and I was quite shocked that he had filmed something so mawkish and unsubtle, not to mention badly shot and edited. Plus the rugby was filmed by someone who doesn't understand the game. Poor Matt Damon had nothing to do, except probably cringe at the acting abilities of his team mates. In fact, the more I type, the angrier I'm getting so I'll leave it there before I start slagging off Million-D... More

Posted by lovewych at 15:59, 04 May 2012 | Report This Post


Invictus Review

Delivered with typically stately precision from director Clint Eastwood, Invictus may not be rousing enough for some viewers, but Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman inhabit their real-life characters with admirable conviction. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 11:58, 20 December 2011 | Report This Post


Good

This is actually a realy good film, but the only problem was it didn't realy inspire me. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 09:48, 21 April 2011 | Report This Post


Average. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by reminn at 12:11, 03 November 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

It is one of those rare films that capture how a big spoting event can bring a nation together, and the rugby scenes were wonderful.  However the acting left a lot to be desired, I'm not a huge Damon fan, and Freeman just seemed to be slightly more larger than life version of himself.  I too found it undramtic. ... More

Posted by ElephantBoy at 02:41, 30 June 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

I think that's a side criticism probably levelled at every sports film ever made-possibly except Chariots of Fire. But i do agree,it was rugby filmed badly,and with it being the central theme and taking a lot of screen time,to be honest,it began to grate. The story,as intended,COULD have been inspiring,Clint just had an off day,and to be fair,he doesn't have many. ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 23:15, 14 June 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

L: adambatman82 I too really enjoyed this. Eastwood manages to make the dullest of sports entertaining, and gives an era of history a fresh angle. OW can you think rugby is dull, let the alone the "dullest of sports"!? If anything this film made rugby appear much more dull than it actually is, altogether an average feel good film, but not outstanding ... More

Posted by musht at 20:59, 14 June 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

/u] In the early 90s Nelson Mandela was released from prison and soon after supported the South African rugby team to bring the nation together. Personally it was not my sort of film however I did enjoy Grantoreno which was also directed by Clint Eastwood but there are some fantastic rugby scenes that draw me more towards the movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Luke B at 19:08, 14 June 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

Timon,it's bland! I didn't expect Cry Freedom,i know the subject matter wasn't go to go that route,but it didn't really go any route. After this film,i don't believe for one second Nelson Mandela gave a flying fuck about the Springboks-or indeed anyone should,in real life. Does that not illustrate where the film failed? ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 00:17, 11 June 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

Bland? Pfff. It's inspiring, moving stuff.... I stand by my comment that most of the complaints about the film come from the fact that it's not Long Walk To Freedom. ... More

Posted by Timon at 13:18, 10 June 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

Spot on. Bland was exactly the word i was going to use. It's not a bad film,but given the subject matter,the director and the cast,surely you have to expect more? And i like rugby(even though the rugby was shot the way Escape to Freedom shot football). It was a decent Sunday afternoon film,but nothing memorable and certainly not an addition to the Blu-Ray collection. ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 15:18, 09 June 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

Despite some parts being a bit slow this was a great film.     ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by efc91 at 08:56, 09 June 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

Is there a difference between the Blu Ray and the normal DVD release? ... More

Posted by Timon at 12:45, 08 June 2010 | Report This Post


Invictus

Invictus might not be the strongest of Eastwood's latest string of movies but its always gripping and the man seems incapable of making a bad film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Soprano168 at 12:29, 27 April 2010 | Report This Post


Emotional filmmaking with star performance from Freeman

Invictus will definitely be one of the most underrated films of the year. The highlight of the film is obvioulsy the beautiful performance from Morgan Freeman, who quite frankly simply IS Nelson Mandela. Watch any YouTube clip of the ex-President and then a Freeman scene from Invictus. They're identical. Clint Eastwood carries the film along brilliantly, and even though this may not exactly be his best work, he still gets the job done superbly, and then some. Anthony Peckham's writing, I feel, ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djphilips at 22:34, 08 April 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

L: Sway Personally I think there's too much going on in this one film to make it really good.   I know it was based on a book, and the story behind it is unquestionably inspiring and heartwarming, but it simply doesn't work on screen.  Mandela's compassion and inner convictions are really what you'll remember after the film, so it's ashame that such a figure is relegated to several small insights throughout, rather than a full blown biopic which could then have *touched*... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Timon at 11:20, 22 February 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

Clint Eastwood is one of the best and most consistent directors around, but Invictus is a little disappointment-of course this doesn't mean it's dreadful, far from it, it just falls short of his usual high standard. It looks and feels pretty convincing but it's a great deal more simplistic than you'd expect, with everything painted in black and white and in fact it seems that too much of an effort has been made to make it audience friendly. It starts promisingly with Mandela moving into offic... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 22:01, 17 February 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

Oh dear.   This wasn't really any better than I'd expected it to be, and I had low expectations.   It was generally a bland affair which can be summed up by the scene in which Pienaar joins Mandela for a cup of tea, 'well that was ] wasn't it?' Everything about the movie was bsp; ly Clint Eastwood wanted to make an accessible film that didn't play too hard on the politics card, nor too hard on the sport card in order to maintain a balance between the two.  Which he did very... More

Posted by Sway at 22:57, 15 February 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

I too really enjoyed this. Eastwood manages to make the dullest of sports entertaining, and gives an era of history a fresh angle. ... More

Posted by adambatman82 at 13:20, 08 February 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Invictus

I'm not a big Rugby fan myself but this film was so heart-warming and enjoyable that I'm really keen to watch it again.   I've always been a huge Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman fan so finally seeing them paired up together was pretty much a dream come true. The story is directed and written beautifully by Clint Eastwood, showing the reality of the racial difference in South Africa. Freeman's portrail of Nelson Mandela was as excellent as I expected it to be. It was feel good, the s... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ravagee at 12:43, 08 February 2010 | Report This Post


I really enjoyed this movie, but went to see it with someone who found it a little dull. The difference in opinions, we realised after comparing notes, came about from our feelings toward rugby. I watch every game the All Blacks play, and several they don't, I talk about rugby and moan about the coach. I am a big fan, while my companion is not, and that made the difference to how engrossing we found the movie. While I found the portrayal of our team as being a bunch of sideliners and one man doi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by malaga at 02:16, 07 February 2010 | Report This Post


I really enjoyed this movie, but went to see it with someone who found it a little dull. The difference in opinions, we realised after comparing notes, came about from our feelings toward rugby. I watch every game the All Blacks play, and several they don't, I talk about rugby and moan about the coach. I am a big fan, while my companion is not, and that made the difference to how engrossing we found the movie. While I found the portrayal of our team as being a bunch of sideliners and one man doi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by malaga at 01:12, 07 February 2010 | Report This Post


Invictus

Not dramatic enough for a movie about mandela - but the feelgood factor, and performance by Morgan Feeman helps the film along ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 22:20, 05 February 2010 | Report This Post


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