Saturday, January 30, 2010

Quick Look: Invictus (2009)

At this point, can we expect anything less from a film directed by Clint Eastwood than a good-looking film? Even when they’re not good – I didn’t care for Flags of Our Fathers or Gran Torino – they still look just fine, with a classic sheen that comes from dependable Hollywood craftsmanship. Certainly, Invictus does nothing to reverse this trend, but the film comes up short in a few other areas, mainly in the arenas of character and passion. Eastwood, in telling the story of Nelson Mandela’s first months as president of South Africa, has chosen to focus on Mandela’s interest in uniting the country through its rugby team. It’s an interesting story, but one that I’d have rather seen as a subplot in a Mandela biopic. Even so, I have to judge the movie in front of me and not the movie I wanted to see. Eastwood had the good sense to have Morgan Freeman play Mandela. It’s a performance that borders on mere imitation but Freeman has a quiet dignity that suits the role. The presentation of Mandela feels a little superficial, but Freeman carries the part, giving it the feeling of greater depth than what must have been on the page. As the rugby captain is Matt Damon doing a capable job in a role that requires him to mostly just shout “let’s go, guys!” The movie seems aimless for a while, even if it’s enjoyably so. I liked every scene with Mandela; he gives excellently performed monologues and dialogues and I got great enjoyment out of the scenes that simply observed his political process. I also enjoyed a subplot that runs through the film which follows the black and white members of Mandela’s security team learning to work together. Once the all-rugby finale kicks in, the movie finds a drive that it had been missing, but it pushes Freeman to the side in the process. He’s the emotion, but not the thrill, I guess. At moments, Invictus is genuinely soul-stirring but I left the theater wishing my soul could have been stirred up just a bit more.

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