When: Thursday, 21 January - Thursday, 25 February
Where: Various cinemas
How much: $15.00
Clint Eastwood is getting sentimental in his old age. The laudable director and gritty actor, who only last year seethed, “Get off my lawn,” is now all about the group-hug, rugby style. Taking the true story of Nelson Mandela’s reunification aspirations for the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Eastwood somehow manages to sit on the sidelines; serving up neither a political thriller nor a sports drama.
The premise is intriguing. Based on John Carlin’s book Playing with the Enemy, South African screenwriter Anthony Peckham chronicles the story of Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman – surely born to play this role), freed from prison after 27 years and rising to the presidency of a divided nation. A potent symbol of this schism is the Springbok rugby team, captained by Francois Pienaar (a beefy Matt Damon); their green and gold jerseys hated by the new ‘rainbow nation.’ With South Africa hosting the World Cup, Mandela calls on Pienaar to lead his team and with it the nation, to victory, glory and unification.
‘Invictus’ refers to the poem by William Ernest Henley, which inspired Mandela and translates to the powerful meaning, ‘unconquered’. Alas Eastwood hasn’t managed to conquer this profound historical moment; instead he seems at pains to tell us how important this is, be it through exhaustive pontificating by Freeman, hokey scenes (such as a black boy refusing to take a Springbok jersey) or spelling it out through an entirely unnecessary song, “Colourblind.”
And yet, despite being at risk of drowning in sentimental symbolism, Invictus is still worth a look. It’s a thought-provoking and at times compelling tribute to an astounding event in South Africa’s history. If only Eastwood had been more ambitious with the drama, and more imaginative with the rugby scenes (be prepared to see a lot of scrums). Then again, a scrum is just the kind of aggressive, impassioned and symbolic group hug that Eastwood was after.
By Alice Tynan