The inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joined forces with the captain of South Africa's rugby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to help unite their country.
Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa's underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.
Based on the book "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation" by John Carlin.
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 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 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.
'Invictus' has a nice selection of extras, including some great exclusives detailed below.
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.