Tuesday, January 05, 2010

515 - Invictus review

Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” is not so much a film as it is an Official Request for an Oscar. The components for that Oscar are there:

1. Revered real world figure portrayed by celebrated heavyweight thespian: check. Here it’s Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela. This is Freeman’s project as much as it is Eastwood’s, and seems poised to supply each of them with additional Oscar nominations.

2. Contentious real world issue addressed: check. Set in South Africa shortly after the end of apartheid, racism is front and center, and in a setting with a vastly more antagonistic recent history with it than our own. The Academy loves serious films that address racism, especially ones released during awards season.

3. Inspiring story where heroes triumph against impossible odds: check again! Here we follow the efforts of the Springboks, South African national rugby team, during their mission to determine which country truly is the world’s greatest: South Africa or New Zealand. A nearly all-white team generally despised by the (much larger) black population, they’re captained by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon).

The only thing Eastwood and screenwriter Anthony Peckham neglect is to suffuse the narrative with the sort character development that endears us to the figures onscreen. Mandela isn’t shown so much as a great man as he is a vehicle for benevolent and wise decisions. This is pure, unabashed idolatry, and even if the real man is remarkable, it’s difficult to forge a personal connection with such a figure. Movies are about people, not reverent images of them.

So it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that out of the countless areas of Mandela’s administration that could have been emphasized, that the one selected actually does contain rather impressive instances of forgiveness and achievement. Mandela throws his public support behind the rugby team, a beloved institution for South Africa’s white populace, as a symbol of the nation’s need to rise above the need for bitterness and retribution.

Where many of history’s resurgent leaders have been quick to brutalize former oppressors, Mandela’s desire to reconcile, along with a healthy dose of political savvy, ensures that an uplifting symbol is made out of a simple sporting event. So many movies feature the big game as the climax, but how many can be said to have a wounded nation’s dignity and pride on the line? How many more can claim to be basing that event on truth?

Alas, there’s that nagging problem of character. It’s a good story, but ultimately without the story part. A fantastic performance by Freeman might secure him another nomination, but it won’t score the statue, and if the film itself is nominated, it’ll only be due to the Academy’s experiment at having ten Best Picture nominees instead of the traditional five. It’s ironic that this film’s slavish devotion to earning awards has essentially guaranteed that it’ll miss out on the prizes.

2.5 out of 5

1 comment:

Heidi said...

"Movies are about people, not reverent images of them."

I agree, but Mandela isn't portrayed as a perfect. He obviously has family problems, bad ones. The movies doesn't go into that, but it doesn't avoid it either.

I agree, this one will be in the Oscar hunt only because of the 10 vs. 5 Best Picture nominees this year. But I thought it was a solid movie about how sports can bring a nation together. After all, it was as much about a sporting event as it was about the characters. You could say the game of rugby actually became one of the film's characters.