In his first historic term as President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), faces the tensions and divisions of a post apartheid nation, where whites and blacks are equally suspicious of the other. Mandela, who had survived 27 years in prison (clinging to the spiritual message of William Ernest Henley's poem, Invictus) believes that the South African white man's sport - rugby - can help bring his people closer together, so he makes it his mission, through the captain, Francois Pnnear (Matt Damon) to inspire and encourage the struggling Springboks to lift their game as they head for the 1995 Rugby World Cup - as the underdogs.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's about inspiration and Clint Eastwood's rousing, uplifting and profoundly moving film is one that inspires on many levels. It's about things both great and small, when the seemingly insignificant is far from that. Who would have thought that a rugby game could unite a rainbow-coloured nation divided by hate and racial discrimination? 'Forgiveness liberates the soul,' says newly elect President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman, perfectly cast) post apartheid, as he tries to convince his 'family' of 42 million people that change is a strength, not a weakness. There's nothing superficial about this thrilling and powerful feel-good film that transcends genres and soars as high as our hearts will fly.
Anthony Peckham's screenplay (based on John Carlin's book) begins in 1990 at the historic moment when Freeman's Mandela is released after 3 decades behind bars and wins the democratically held election. But how to rule and effect change is different from winning an election as Mandela points out. It is during a rugby match ('a hooligan's game, played by gentlemen'), when he notices the black majority rooting for 'the other team', rather than the Springboks home team, that the essence of a plan is hatched. 'We need inspiration: we must exceed our own expectations,' Mandela tells Springboks captain François Pienaar (Matt Damon, superb), as they agree that setting an example is their philosophy of leadership.
First and foremost, Eastwood delivers the intangible 'mood' of South Africa, cutting through the climate, describing the prickly, suspicious relations between blacks and whites. We take many different journeys through the film but the two that resonate loudest are those of the extraordinary Mandela and Damon's François. William Ernest Henley's poem Invictus (Latin meaning 'unconquered') that inspired Mandela as a prisoner as he studied his Africaan captors from a tiny cell during 27 long years, becomes François' inspiration as he realises he and his rugby team represent far more than simply a sport ('one team, one country').
I perched right on the edge of my seat as the pivotal 1995 World Cup finals in Johannesburg between the Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks comes to a thrilling climax before a crowd of 63,000 people. Never have scrums, knocks, blows and ball passes been so tense, or goals so euphoric. Eastwood delivers with all the style and effortless storytelling skills we know so well.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I've never believed that politics and international sport are unconnected to each other and that decisions in sport have no political impact. Next time you hear someone sprout that empty line, show them Invictus, Clint Eastwood's gripping, moving, sobering and highly entertaining film. Eastwood takes a chapter of Nelson Mandela's life (based on the book by John Carlin that documents it) because it's a great cinematic story. Mandela has just taken office as President of South Africa after the previous regime had convicted him of being a terrorist and kept him jailed for almost 30 years. The tables had turned - what would a black President do with his power?
Mandela's answer was to forgive the old South Africa for its numerous sins so as to forge a new South Africa free of fear and hatred. There is little in the annals of history to match such nobility (Gandhi aside) - nor is there a matching event in history in which sport played such a crucial role. The blacks of apartheid era South Africa had never barracked for the white dominated Springboks, whose colours and emblems stood for apartheid; Mandela had a fight on his hands to change that, as part of the process of national reconciliation.
The healing process that Mandela wanted to set in train is the central focus of Eastwood's film, in which a calm and measured Mandela - superbly portrayed by Morgan Freeman - leads by example, takes enormous political risks but knows he's right, and inspires a rugby team to exceed its own expectations - all because it nurtures the national spirit.
Of course it's easier to say than to do, but Eastwood does. Like Mandela, he knows where he wants to go and why. He knows what he wants to say and how. Every detail counts, much of it sharply memorable. And never has so much rugby been played on screen in front of my eyes without them glazing over; Eastwood weaves together the various themes of the story - and there are several - to orchestrate a moving account of those extraordinary days in 1995. It is inspiring still, even away from its original context.
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THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD
CAST: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Julian Lewis Jones, Adjoa Andoh, Marguerite Wheatley, Leleti Khumalo, Patrick Lyster,Penny Downie, Louis Minnar, Danny keogh
PRODUCER: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Lori McCreary, Mace Neufeld
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
SCRIPT: Anthony Peckham (book Playing the Enemy by John Carlin)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Stern
EDITOR: Joel Cox, Gary Roach
MUSIC: Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens
PRODUCTION DESIGN: James J. Murakami
RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 21, 2010