Clint Eastwood directs Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon Discuss this article
He turns 80 this year and claims Gran Torino was his last outing as an actor. But, as a director, Clint Eastwood is keeping his nose to the grindstone. Invictus is his respectful, rousing drama about Nelson Mandela’s canny co-opting of the 1995 Rubgy World Cup Finals as a tool to promote racial harmony across the social and political tinderbox that was the new, post-apartheid state.
Eastwood isn’t a director to indulge in shades of grey, so the film’s first scenes of the historic, televised release of Mandela (Morgan Freeman) from prison in 1990 are preceded by a shot of white boys playing rugby on one side of the road while their black equivalents kick a football on the other. Simple imagery: a background of division established – job done.
A similar, no-nonsense efficiency colours the whole film. It’s valuable life lessons all round as Mandela invites the national rugby team’s white captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to tea, joins the rugby team in training and – famously – strides on to the pitch at the South Africa v New Zealand final wearing the same Springboks shirt that a year earlier was a divisive symbol of the old nation.
Both leads are effective, and Damon is very good at displaying Pienaar’s conservatism cracking in the glare of Mandela’s wise optimism. Freeman is perhaps too stately, but it’s a thankless task trying to pull off an impersonation of such a public figure. He’s more at ease in intimate scenes, although on a technical level, his accent raises the odd eyebrow.
Invictus isn’t one of Eastwood’s best films. But it’s still a noble and compassionate work that in its later scenes manages successfully to invest our emotions in the triumph of an important – if overlong – sporting victory.
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