Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
1.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
2.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Invictus

Street Date:
May 18th, 2010
Reviewed by:
Drew Taylor
Review Date: 1
May 19th, 2010
Movie Release Year:
2009
Studio:
Warner Brothers
Length:
133 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Clint Eastwood is one of those unstoppable cinematic forces, a director-actor-composer capable of churning out reliably solid movies, year after year, even as he reaches retirement age – and beyond. Granted, not all of these movies hit the mark (I'd argue he hasn't made a truly great film since 'Unforgiven') and sometimes his hubris gets in the way of an otherwise enjoyable movie (like him casting a bunch of non-actors in 'Gran Torino' and then singing the theme song over the closing credits), you can't deny the man is good, people like him, and his pictures are always sturdily produced if not exactly galvanizing.

Still, 'Invictus' is very good.

It's conversely the story of a newly-freed Nelson Mandela and the mostly white South African rugby team, which was fighting for a championship title when the country itself was being torn apart.

Morgan Freeman, in a dazzling performance, plays Nelson Mandela who, after getting out of prison in 1990, successfully wins the presidency in 1994. During the transition, Mandela goes to François Pienaar (the impeccable Matt Damon), the captain of the beloved rugby team the Springboks. He sees the Springboks success as a chance to unify the country, in a time when it needed it most. He poses the championship win as a moral issue as much as it is a competitive one.

So we have these parallel storylines: one involves Mandela, adjusting to his new life as the president and all the simmering outrage, lingering paranoia, and bigotry. One great bit has his new, all-black security force being integrated with the previous secret service-y guys and them first clashing and then accepting each other (metaphor alert). The second storyline is Pienaar's, who tries to rouse the rugby team to victory while also taking part in events all over the country, in their own attempt at understanding and unifying the diverse and uneasy country. There's a great scene were Pienaar and the team go to the former prison where Mandela was held, and walk into his cell. It's a quiet, simple scene that's evocative of the way that Eastwood spins the drama in 'Invictus.'

These two storylines culminate, obviously, in the big, climactic game, which Nelson Mandella attends. And let me tell you, that the final match is a breathlessly put together centerpiece, a little movie in and of itself. Eastwood shoots the sports stuff with surprising vigor, and the entire thing ends up being rousing, both politically and sports-movie-wise. Eastwood creates a fully realized and lived-in South Africa, one that is incredibly complicated and diverse. It's sort of lovely to see how well 'Invictus' turned out.

That's not to say the movie is perfect. Those of us who have no idea how rugby, you know, works (like me), could have used some kind of refresher course. Not understanding the mechanics of the game can do a lot to take you out of the movie (luckily, it didn't have a huge impact on me). Also, there's this bizarre moment late in the film, which is supposedly based on a true event, but the way Eastwood shoots it and puts it together makes it seem like he's trying to trick us into thinking the movie is turning into some kind of political thriller or something (it's not). But these foibles are easily dismissed and quickly forgotten.

Even if I'm not a Clint Kool-Aid Drinker, I am more than happy to proclaim that 'Invictus' is a very good movie indeed. Free of many of the nitpicky issues that can sink even the most promising-sounding movie (did 'Changeling' even know what kind of movie it was?), it's a solid little drama with a nice political backbone and an easily digestible sports-movie core.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

The 50GB Blu-ray disc automatically plays, then plays some trailers for digital downloads and the big Clint Eastwood box set that Warner Bros is putting out (Eastwood turns 80 next month - yowza). The two-disc set includes a DVD, which serves as a DVD copy and has the digital copy. The disc is Region free and BD-Live ready but at the time of this writing, there was no exclusive BD-Live content available.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The 1080p VC-1 transfer (maintaining its original 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio – thanks for that, Warner Bros) is fairly impressive and a fine reproduction of the theatrical experience.

Director of photography Tom Stern shoots South Africa and much of the movie in strong daylight, which leads to a kind of overall glowy look that some could mistake for being "soft" but in fact is authentic to the movie's original intent. Things aren't incredibly "sharp," and an occasionally strong layer of grain accompanies the image, but the colorful countryside of South Africa and the dusty colors of yellow and gold really shine through.

There's something otherworldly about the movie, with a character who has been released from prison and dealing with the presidency of a torn nation (and a rugby player with the weight of the country now on his shoulders) and the colors and photography represent that beautifully. Contrast is good, skin tones look nice, and there aren't any buggy technical issues to speak of either.

Overall, it's a superb transfer, especially when you take artistic intent into consideration. I fear that it might get overlooked, with its subtlety and nuance, but you always run that risk on a movie that isn't 'Transformers.'

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also quite wonderful, rousing in all the ways the film is.

There are two sections of the film, obviously, and while the chattier sections (Mandela in his office, Pienaar's home life and his life behind-the-scenes with the team) are focused, front-and-center with minor atmospheric flourishes. This shouldn't surprise anybody. Everything sounds very crisp and clear and well prioritized. Then there's the second section of the movie, which is all the rugby stuff, and that's when the track really takes off. By no means overtly bombastic (which would overwhelm a sensibly dramatic movie), the surround channels do spring to life in the rugby sequences.

Even though you might not understand what exactly is going on in terms of the game's mechanics, you feel every kick, every impact, in the entire game. Also, there are some great scenes where the team teaches kids in the country to play rugby and that stuff is really lively.

This mix does not let this remarkable little movie down, at all, which is really the best compliment you can give.

Additionally, there are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on the disc, and subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

'Invictus' has a nice selection of extras, including some great exclusives detailed below.

  • Matt Damon Plays Rugby (HD, 6:49) This brief feature is all about Matt Damon training to play rugby, the differences between soccer (some funny saying about it's a "gentlemen's game played by hooligans" or something) and how rugby is portrayed in the film. No, I don't understand it any better. But please, watch this and explain it to me later.
  • 'Invictus' Music Trailer (HD, 2:36) I'm not really sure what this is, because trailers usually have stuff like the company's logos on it and whatnot. This, however, is a straightforward, nearly 3 minute long trailer set to music. You can easily skip this one.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are some really great extras that are exclusive to Blu-ray, thank you very much Warner Bros! There's also a second disc with a DVD copy that also includes the digital download stuff. And the disc is BD-Live ready (but, again, at the time of this writing there was no BD-Live content up). Added value content indeed!

  • Vision, Courage and Honor Forget about that utterly pretentious title, this is a really, really, really (REALLY) wonderful picture-in-picture feature that runs inside of the main feature. It features interviews by pretty much all the principles involved in the film (like its South African screenwriter), as well as historical figures. I'm explaining this really poorly but it's a wonderful feature and one that everyone who gets the disc should watch. I'd recommend picking up the Blu-ray for this feature, alone, actually. It's a more refined, mature version of Warner Bros' Maximum Movie Mode feature (that was on 'Terminator Salvation' and 'Sherlock Holmes.') and I absolutely loved it.
  • Mandela Meets Morgan (HD, 28:10) Speaking of great features, this one is also really strong. It's basically about the development process (the title is a bit misleading and narrow), about Morgan Freeman and Mandela getting together, how much they look and sound alike, with lots of footage of the two of them interacting. We then go wider, to see Matt Damon and his real-life counterpart and the trials and tribulations of casting several full rugby teams. Really engaging and thorough with surprisingly little overlap with the picture-in-picture stuff.
  • The Eastwood Factor (SD, 22:23) This starts off with an introduction by "critic" and documentarian Richard Schickel, saying that he had been working on a documentary about Clint Eastwood's many years at Warner Bros. This would be a snippet of a larger documentary that would be out later (again, to coincide with Clint's 80th birthday). So while this is really engaging, it kind of bums you out that it cuts out after less than a half hour, leaving you with the feeling you had just watched a really long commercial instead of anything substantive. Also, what I find so funny is Clint saying that he made a movie for Warner Brothers a million years ago (I forget which one) and says, "And I've been there ever since." Which TOTALLY ignores the fact that 'Changeling,' released in 2008, was produced by Imagine Entertainment and released by Universal – Warner Bros had nothing to do with it!

Final Thoughts

While I may not be gaga for Clint like so many others, his craftsmanship and talent is undeniable, and 'Invictus' might be his best film since 'Unforgiven.' An appropriately rousing civil rights story with a finely tuned sports tale at its heart, 'Invictus' makes thorny political issues palpable, with great parallel underdog stories. Thankfully, Warner Bros has given 'Invictus' a great high definition treatment, with stellar audio and video and a host of engaging extras, most of which are exclusive to this disc. Add in the value of getting a DVD/digital copy disc too and this is a highly recommended title indeed.

Technical Specs

  • 50GB Disc
  • DVD/Digital Copy Disc
  • Region free

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/VC-1

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French
  • Spanish

Supplements

  • Matt Damon plays rugby
  • Invictus music trailer

Exclusive HD Content

  • Picture-in-Picture movie exploration with cast/crew and the real people who lived this true story
  • Mandela Meets Morgan
  • The Eastwood Factor documentary excerpt

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