In the 1950’s, a western TV show called Rawhide hit US airwaves. One of several series about the old west, it captivated adults and children alike. Rawhide featured an ensemble cast of largely unknown actors, including a young man named Clint Eastwood. Eastwood had appeared in TV and film before, but it was here he really found fame. After Rawhide ended, Eastwood made a handful of TV shows and movies, until his big break came along. Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and it’s follow ups made Eastwood into an icon. He went on to play numerous tough guy parts, invariably a cowboy or cop, and was very successful.

 He made his directorial debut early on, often combining his newfound talent with his acting. He met with mild success until his 1992 western Unforgiven. It was hailed as one of the best westerns of all times, and gained Eastwood alot of credibility. It was also the first time he would work with Morgan Freeman. Now, 17 years later, Eastwood and Freeman come together for the third time, with Invictus.

 Freeman plays Nelson Mandela. The movie is based on the John Carlin novel Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Changed a Nation. It follows the South African president from his release from prison through the 1995 rugby world cup. Mandela wanted to use the world cup as a focal point, a means to try and unite a torn country as one following the fall of apartheid. Freeman is considered one of the greatest living actors. He has won much critical acclaim, including Oscar nominations for Driving Miss Daisy and The Shawshank Redmption 

 Matt Damon stars as Francois Pienaar, the South African rugby team captain, who Mandela hopes can lead the national team to victory. After struggling with his career early on, Damon has finally made the breakthrough and is quickly becoming a well respected actor. Despite academy award recognition as writer of Good Will Hunting, Damon was struggling for work until Steven Soderbergh offered him a part in Ocean’s 11.

 Crediting that role as resurrecting his career, Damon was subsequently cast as Jason Bourne in the Bourne movie series. The success of the series, combined with great work in The Departed and Syriana, means Damon now finds himself firmly A-list. The actor has worked with South African rugby player Chester Williams, a member of the world cup team, to prepare for the role, and get into the required physical shape.

 The ace in the hole for Invictus, if it needs one, is director Clint Eastwood. Following the well respected Unforgiven, his directorial work included The Bridges of Madison County and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. But it’s over the last ten years that Eastwood has staked his claim as one of the best. Million Dollar Baby, Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, the director has focused on serious dramas with serious messages, has turned prolific into consistent, and in the process become one of the most respected directors of the decade. It’s perhaps surprising that a man who as an actor was famous for roles as a tough guy of few words, has so much to say as a film maker.

 Eastwood has flirted with the Academy in the past with two awards for Unforgiven, and particularly since the turn of the century with another two for Million Dollar Baby, both times for direction and best picture, and nominations for Mystic River and Letters From Iwo Jima. Throw in Freeman and Damon, neither a stranger to Oscar night, (with a supporting actor award for the former and a screenplay win and actor nomination for the latter), and a story charting the popular president, a man considered the greatest living South African, and you can see Invictus fighting it’s way to the table. With ten candidates now allowed in the field it has a chance at best film, Freeman has a shot at best actor, and if the film does turn out to be a good one, Eastwood for director seems the most likely of the three.

 As far as box office goes, look for respectability rather than blockbuster. The story on paper sounds less than compelling, serious drama is rarely a big hitter, and Freeman and Damon, though respected, are not big money guarantees. This has been evidenced particularly by the poor performance of The Informant at the box office, it’s less obvious in Freeman’s case as he can invariably be found more in supporting roles.

 If you want a taster of Invictus before the release, you can finder the trailer here, the poster here, and some images and a clip here.

 If Invictus proves to be historically accurate, it could be an important film serving to help chart the history of a country that has seen so much turmoil. Either way, with Eastwood at the helm, it should definitely be worth a watch.

 Invictus is released in the US this Friday 11th December, and in the UK on 5th February.

Bazmann –