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Film: Invictus

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
In cinemas: Now

[1]Morgan Freeman has had a pretty epic selection of roles throughout his cinematic career. In the hierarchy of man he’s played everything from an impoverished driver to a judge, to the Director of the CIA, to the US President. He’s even played God – twice.

The latest addition to Freeman’s cinematic portfolio is one after which he has long sought: that of Nelson Mandela. Set in 1994, Invictus charts Mandela’s first fifteen months in power in South Africa, arriving amid mass civil unrest as the deposed white minority struggle to accept the new ruling black classes, and the difficulty encountered by the new rulers in placating the fears of the whites that their own culture might be destroyed by the long-oppressed blacks.

Mandela identifies the 1995 Rugby World Cup – itself being held in South Africa – as a chance to unite the country behind a common goal, and Invictus follows his campaign to unite the black population (who see the national side, the Springboks, as a symbol of oppression, playing an elitist game and wearing the imperial colours of myrtle green and gold) with the whites. To do this, he calls in the help of the team captain, Francois Pienaar (Damon), who embodies the white population as they learn to respect their new President.

Clint Eastwood understands the unifying power of sport in society; after his exploits in Million Dollar Baby, Invictus represents another shot at showcasing the unique ability sport holds to capture the collective imagination of a nation in a way that few other activities can. Intertwined with this is the showcase of Mandela’s slow but successful emotional integration of two warring factions of his country’s population – a subplot that no doubt deserves any number of films devoted to it.

In attempting to tell a sporting story and a political one, sadly neither is ultimately told as best it could be. What may have been a glorious opportunity to present the world with an overdue Mandela biopic is squandered by including a story based on a sport that few understand. Similarly, what for rugby aficionados could have been truly enthralling, is diluted by the long indulgences in politics. Freeman (as ever) and Damon are superb and compelling, but sport and politics rarely make for easy bedfellows in real life, let alone the silver screen.

In a Nutshell: An adequate sporting story, an interesting political one, but a disappointingly average marriage of both

Gavan Reilly