Widely dismissed as a sketchy biopic of Nelson Mandela, Clint Eastwood's Invictus is actually a better than average sports film which only uses Mandela's new age of reconciliation in South Africa as a backdrop. Ironically, between its original theatrical release and its home release yesterday (on Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand, and for Download) the issues surrounding apartheid and reconciliation have once again come to the fore in that country.
Never mind the hornet's nest of residual racial division stirred up by the grisly murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche, leader of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging party and one of the most outspoken hardliners to oppose the end of apartheid. Just last week, the New Zealand and South African Rugby Unions apologized to their respective non-white players for being excluded during apartheid, according to an Associated Press article in Australia's Herald Sun. Both nations' teams are prominently featured in the film's climactic match. This timely turn of events rightly reframes the focus of the film off of Mandela (a rather rote performance of grandiosity by Morgan Freeman) and onto Francois Pienaar (endowed with an aura of humility and vitality by a minimalist Matt Damon). As I stated in my earlier review:
...the performance at the center of Invictus is actually a quiet but visceral one by Damon as Pienaar. Pienaar is, after all, the character most affected by the changes in South Africa after Mandela helps bring an end to apartheid and ascends to the presidency. Within the story, Mandela is simply the agent of change that advances the story. So those maligning Invictus for its simplistic depiction of [Mandela] are failing to comprehend why this film works. At its heart, this sports drama is inspired by Mandela rather than about him.Invictus also shows Eastwood handling the abrupt tonal shifts which often mar his stylistic mash-ups quite deftly this time. The suspense offered by political and racial turmoil are integrated somewhat neatly with the traditional rousing sports narrative, and in fact, raise the stakes far more dramatically than the usual attributions to personal honor and codes of manhood. It's a movie that slyly retains its immediacy despite its director's understated classical style of filmmaking, an astonishing feat in this age of big budget studio fluff.