Invictus isn’t a word I’d ever heard before and until watching the movie, I had no idea what it was or meant. Well, let me tell you! Invictus is a poem written by William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) which becomes the backbone for reuniting a country when it was on the brink of collapse. Borrowing the poem’s name Clint Eastwood’s new movie takes us through that journey about how a man who was a prisoner becomes the president of his country to lead and unite it in a way that no one thought possible.
Invictus the movie is based on the book by John Carlin (Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation) and stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and the movie begins with stock news bulletins from the 90s which show him being released from prison, and then moving on to showing the election lines stretching for miles with him winning and going into office. We start by seeing all the white people leaving the office of the president as they believe that their jobs will be taken away from them. Far from it. Mandela encourages them to stay knowing that his country cannot be rebuilt on the outside, if it doesn’t begin from within.
Clint Eastwood reunited with many of his longtime collaborators, including director of photography Tom Stern, production designer James J. Murakami, editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, and costume designer Deborah Hopper. The music is by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens and the entire movie was shot on location in and around the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa, (and I didn’t see a single ‘Prawn’!).
Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, the South African rugby captain who was leading his team when Mandela was elected president. After seeing Mandela try to reform his own office, we move to the playing field where we see the Springboks (SA) playing rugby against England where, quite frankly, we hammer the living daylights out of them! Pienaar is worried for his position in the SA team when the bosses become worried that their prized team needs a revamp, especially as they’re hosting the next world cup 12 months away.
Mandela is at the game against England and meets all the players on the pitch before the match where we come to realise that the SA team only has one black person in the form of Chester Williams (McNeil Hendricks) and that during the match, all the white people hated Mandela and the black people were all supporting England during the match. He realised that if he could get his national rugby team on side and win the World Cup as the host country it could, in turn, unite his nation.
What I loved about this film was that from the outset Eastwood laid out the fact that the country of South Africa was in big trouble. The black people had a new president that they had been allowed to vote in for the first time but that the majority of the white people were still very unhappy about it. But what the movie showed was how clever Nelson Mandela really was. These biopic movies can often be unbelievable with large chunks missed out of what really happened. But I think with Invictus, everything we needed to know was in the movie. It all happens quite quickly but then, the real events all happened within a year and since it’s true, you can’t really argue with the facts.
Eastwood manages to not only concentrate on the main storyline but also on how it affected normal people like Mandela’s bodyguards, learning to work alongside white people and visa versa, the average Joe in the street, the young child who befriends a couple of police officers to listen to the rugby match on their radio and how this movie was all about rebuilding rater than destroying which Hollywood seems to have done a lot of recently. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon were both fantastic as always and it must have been very hard to keep the South African accents up all the time. I’d like to find out what sort of vocal training they had to do to help.
To sum up, this is a movie that I really enjoyed. If you like rugby, you’ll probably like this movie and they had the real Chester Williams giving technical advice on how the movie should be shot. Rugby isn’t really the main focus though, it’s just a chariot to carry the underlying story of Apartheid and rebuilding a broken nation. It was great to see a film being made that showed how a country and be rebuilt rather than destroyed.
Freeman was excellent and the perfect person to play Mandela. I can’t think of any actor who would have done him justice. I’m not sure Damon’s casting was spot on as I couldn’t see through his current Bourne style status that he has but he did a good job and his accent was superb throughout. The movie dragged in a couple of places but it is a Clint Eastwood film! I found it moving, inspiring and I’d love to see it again. I have no doubt you’ll see this movie appearing in schools for years to come to show the collapse of apartheid and what a great man Mandela really was. Will Clint Eastwood ever make a bad film? So far he hasn’t.
Invictus is released in UK cinemas 5th February. If you haven’t seen the trailer, you can check it out here and we also have footage from the press conference which you can watch in it’s entirety here.