Even without the Oscar-laden director and leading men driving Invictus, the story filled with inspiration and hope is sure to get to you.

4-time Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Flags of our Fathers) is almost guaranteed another nomination for taking the helm of Invictus, and includes Oscar-winning actors Morgan Freeman (The Bucket List, The Dark Knight) and Matt Damon (The Bourne Trilogy) as stars in an otherwise unknown cast.

The effect is tremendous, as the pair play a pivotal role in telling the triumphant true story of how former South African President and Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela cleverly used the universal language of sport to unite his countrymen who had been driven apart by almost 50 years of apartheid and oppression in South Africa.

Freeman plays Mandela, newly elected and facing the problem of a widening divide as the Black Africans finally have the opportunity to seek bitter revenge on the Whites that segregated them. Damon is Francois Pienaar, captain of the under-performing South African rugby team the Springboks, which is full of White players and is a reminder of White rule and suffering to the Black African-majority now in power.

Naturally, the team receives almost no support from the 43-million strong population partly due to its poor showing at international matches, but is backed by an unlikely man, President Mandela, who previously used to support any team that played against the Springboks.

Mandela realises that the best way to unify the country is with the help of the White minority instead of continuing to push them away, and during a tea session with Pienaar, challenges him to lead the Springboks to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup hosted in South Africa.

The Springboks go on to win the tournament in style, even beating rugby powerhouse the New Zealand All Blacks who had recorded the highest number of points in a single match, 145, in the same tournament against Japan. A truly inspirational story indeed.

As expected of thespians of their calibre, both Freeman and Damon demonstrated significant command of their roles, depicting their characters strongly. A nice detail was the use of African accents in their roles (Damon even had a dialect coach), in order to add to the overall authenticity.

Those who aren’t hard core rugby fans will be relieved to know that the movie doesn’t show excessive scenes of the sport, something pleasantly different from the underdog-team-comes-out-champs movies of the past decade (Gridiron Gang, The Longest Yard and Coach Carter, just to name a few).

It was up to the dialogue to make the greatest impact in the heavy-themed film of racial segregation and national unity. This it did and more, causing the film to be more engaging rather than making it a boring historical movie.

A few laughs were even invoked at significant, appropriate moments, such as when Mandela’s head of security Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge) said, “According to the experts, we’ll reach the quarter-finals, and no further,” about the Springboks’ chances in the World Cup, to which Mandela responded, “According to the experts, you and I should still be in jail.”

The witty and almost mindlessly idealistic approach (considering nobody would’ve expected South Africa to even get close to winning the World Cup), was a light counterpoint to the deep struggle and hardship of bringing a fractured nation together, and, at times, made it seem far simpler than it probably was.

There were, however, some things that were rather strange. Perhaps it was a way to cut down the amount of rugby shown in the film, but it really did seem like the South Africans easily brushed aside all competition (except the New Zealanders) due to the brief coverage of their games.

This was a little difficult to believe, considering this was a team who had previously been consistently losing, and whose competency was in doubt even before the World Cup began.

Regardless, it has to be said that the movie really isn’t about rugby at all, but rather about the foresight of a leader to heal some of the deepest hurts almost overnight.

When you throw in Eastwood’s unique style of story telling and superb acting from Freeman and Damon, then we, like the South Africans, have ourselves a winner.

Official Trailer:

Release Details:
Opens: Jan 7
Duration: 133 min
Language: English
Rating: PG
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

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