Invictus

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Posted December 10, 2009 in Film

In old school westerns, men were either good, bad or weak. Clint Eastwood’s circled back to that schismatic view egregiously with last year’s Changeling, and gratingly with this based-on-an-inexorable-uplifter sports drama about the 1995 Rugby World Championship. Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), five years into his release from prison and one year into his presidency, inspires Springbok’s captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon, bleached and meaty) to win the cup for South Africa as a symbol of racial and cultural unity. They do, and if you think that’s a spoiler alert, you must not follow ’90s rugby or Eastwood’s Oscar-slavering late period. There are grace notes in Freeman’s light-fingered performance, but Invictus is belabored by Eastwood’s doubt that audiences might not get the team’s thuddingly obvious significance. He could have stopped after the opening pan from white players on manicured grass to black players on dirt right across the street. Which Nelson Mandela just happens to drive down. Which, of course, triggers Eastwood to pan back across from the cheering Africans to the suspicious Afrikaans raising an eyebrow at this 76-year-old upstart. (“That’s a terrorist,” grunts one.) Not only must Eastwood triple-underline, he deletes the facts that muss up his message. The Springboks did clinch the title from New Zealand’s All Blacks, but partly because the entire Kiwi team was stricken with a mysterious case of food poisoning (star wing Jeff Wilson even vomited on the sidelines). Pienaar was drunk kicked off the team the very next year for feigning an injury. And Mandela, a truly outstanding human, is glossed so saintly he won’t even allow a servant to pour his tea. Eastwood allows that he was estranged from his family, but only because he was too perfect for his daughter to understand him. Such complications make humans; humans make great movies. Eastwood’s Oscar sycophants won’t deserve our applause until he trusts us to figure out why we’re clapping.

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