Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
Director: Clint Eastwood
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 133 Minutes
Release Date: May 18, 2010
“I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”
The best way to describe Clint Eastwood’s Invictus is a cross between an inspirational film and an underdog sports drama, which these days is pretty much considered the same type of movie. And though those precise words might indicate a film with a predictable arc, the true story behind the events is such an important one and has never been told through cinema. To me, that alone adds up to a film that is worthy of an audience’s time and money, especially if it’s well made, which it certainly is.
And who in their right mind wouldn’t want to see the great Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela? Even though Freeman has turned in countless memorable performances during the course of his career, this is without question the part he was born to play, as far as historical figures go (he was tied to a number of Mandela biopics over the course of a decade). Not only does he perfectly resemble Mandela (and without the help of makeup effects), but he captures the essence of the man in a way no other actor could.
The story opens on February 11, 1990, as Mandela is released from prison after 27 years. At this time, South Africa was more heavily divided than it had ever been. Mandela would soon find himself elected president, and vowed from the very start to bring an end to the Apartheid regime that plagued South Africa for so long.
His first step in doing so is the focus of Eastwood’s film. Mandela turns his focus to the sport of rugby as the setting for the first step in uniting the nation’s people. South Africa’s team, the Springbok’s, is a predominantly white team. The nation’s blacks generally root for the opposite team, as a way of rallying against Apartheid.
Members within his own party insist that he simply dismantle the Springbok team. Mandela feels such an act will do nothing more than further polarize South Africa. He then invites the team’s captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), for both tea and the presenting of his proposed strategy: persuading the Springboks to win the World Cup.
All of this is handled in a passionate yet subtle way by Eastwood and screenwriter Anthony Peckham, himself a South African, who adapted the book “Playing the Enemy” by John Carlin. The film is more of a character piece than a commentary or reminder of the historical events. You’d expect a film like this to focus mainly on the effect Mandela had on South Africa and its people and while that is no way ignored in this film, Eastwood wisely concentrates on the unique relationship between Mandela and Pienaar, and how their individual actions helped in changing a nation for the better.
Every film Clint directs has at least one or two scenes that will stay with you long after you see it, and Invictus is certainly no exception. The standout moment here is when Francois and his teammates visit Robben Island Prison, where Mandela served his time. In a powerful moment, Francois goes inside Mandela’s cell, as we hear Freeman’s voice quote the poem entitled “Invictus”, which helped him get through his time in prison.
Freeman, as I mentioned earlier, is the only actor who could embody Nelson Mandela perfectly, and his Oscar nominated performance illustrates that beautifully. And Matt Damon continues his increasing streak of remarkable work as Pienaar, putting on both a convincing South African accent and a great deal of muscle for the part. Having said that, I must say that I’m still scratching my head over why he got nominated for this and not for his work in The Informant, only because that’s probably the best performance he’s EVER given.
For the past eight years straight, Clint Eastwood’s directorial work has not hit a single dull spot. Think about that…this is the work of a 79 year old man who sometimes makes two films a year. Invictus is another riveting piece from this legendary iconic director, and is definite must see for the directing, the important story and extraordinary acting.
All of Eastwood’s recent films have looked absolutely remarkable on Blu-ray, and you can certainly add this release from Warner to the list. Eastwood has once again delivered a powerful looking film courtesy of cinematographer Tom Stern, who usually incorporates a good bit of hot whites in the lighting, which helps greatly in the rendering of image detail. Colors are most effective as well, as they always are in an Eastwood film, and the South African setting looks and feels entirely authentic from beginning to end. Fantastic presentation!
Eastwood’s films are usually quiet and solely powered by dialogue and at least a couple dark and intense moments. This film, however, carries the added bonus of rugby sequences with a furiously roaring crowd of spectators. This gives the DTS HD mix plenty to work with in addition to making the dialogue delivery flow superbly. The game sequences are real showstoppers, as they balance the action on the field with crowd noise and the music score perfectly, making the experience all the more enthralling.
The big highlight amongst the extras on this Blu-ray is a Picture-in-Picture presentation titled “Vision, Courage and Honor”, which features countless interview segments with Eastwood, Freeman, Damon and various crew members as well as various real life individuals who figure into the story events. This is a most consistent PIP presentation that is extremely insightful and has no huge gaps whatsoever. Also featured are additional featurettes, including the riveting “Mandela Meets Morgan”, which runs nearly a half hour and is quite incredible to watch, as well as “Matt Damon Plays Rugby” and “The Eastwood Factor”. There’s also a Music Trailer for the film.
Also included is a bonus disc including both the DVD version of the movie as well as a Digital Copy to download to your PC/portable device.
Invictus is a most compelling piece of storytelling courtesy of the one and only Clint Eastwood. His solid directing, the incredibly strong performances from Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon and the remarkable true story are all the reasons you need to checkout this pure powerhouse of a film.