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Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation
by John Carlin
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Invictus"

There are times in the events of man when the unexpected, even the unlikely, brings about an intersection that could only be described as momentous--something ocurring within a box of disproportionate improbability. Such moments might come about through sheer serendipity; others through the vision of a man. This biographical film is in the latter category.

Apartheid in South Africa had ended and the newly elected President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is searching for a way he can bring his turbulent, unreconcilable country together. If he can observe racial hostility on his own, mixed security team, which has as strong a commitment to him as can be found anywhere in the country, how can he hope for a broad reconciliation?

Ah, but observational power is part of the political realism of this canny, ex-political prisoner released into freedom only four years previously, in 1990. Facing him is a population looking for transformative leadership. As we know, they came to the right man, the truth of which begins in a rugby stadium.

Attending a match played by the rugby union team, the Springboks, Mandela observes that non-whites in the stadium are rooting for the other team and jeering the home boys. No way are they ready to cheer on a bunch of white boys (and one black) struggling for every win. Mandela recognizes the feeling--he did the same from his cell on Robben Island. But the fact that South Africa has been set as the host for the 1995 Rugby World Cup one year hence gives him an idea.

Learning that the Sports Committee is planning to change the team's name and colours, he convinces them to abandon the idea. Instead, he invites the team captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to a meeting. Pienaar, in awe of his host, understands that the purpose of the meeting is implicit in the invitation and its timing. Mandela's message is as powerful as the man, and he need not say in words that a truly contending team will go a long way toward changing fans' allegiences. An actual win would cement it. His enemies would accuse Mandela of politicizing sports.

Mandela cites a short poem that inspired him through his days of imprisonment. "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul," are its final words written by English poet William Ernest Henley in 1875. The title of the poem is "Invictus." [see button for full text below].

Psychology, now, is everything in the battle to replace white supremacy with colorless sympathies. Sending messages about newfound attitudes is part of it. Overcoming the ruts of losing and team morale another. Training now includes the increased burden of political pressure. Pienaar's efforts to make something of his hopeless team results in a breakdown from exhaustion.

A change begins when the season opens and the team takes opportunities to meet the locals. Interest and attendance increases. In a grand set piece moment, Mandela arrives at a game wearing a Springbok jersey with Pienaar's number 6 on it. The fears within the team have turned into a motivating energy and they turn in a season beyond all expectation, facing the feared New Zealand All Blacks, the favorites for the World Cup.

The story takes the inspirational power of a sport and doubles down with that of one of the most insprirational men of his generation. Some might carp at how little of his life and career are represented by this small drop. But, think of it more as a cup of maple syrup as a sample of the whole tree, with the rest of seasons of growth to be chronicled in greater depth elsewhere, and you'll be comfortable with that rare intersection of lives and events that can change nations.

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Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Combo Pack
  • IN-DEPTH PICTURE IN PICTURE - Explore the movie's creation with those who lived the real-life saga as well as the cast and filmmakers.
  • MANDELA MEETS MORGAN - Get to know the legendary world leader as the actore meets with him to prepare for the film.
  • THE EASTWOOD FACTOR - Clint Eastwood looks back at his films and career.
  • Matt Damon Plays Rugby
  • Invictus Music Trailer
    The Soundtrack

  • In a way that parallels the effects of a steady coach on the accomplishments of a team, this film bears the imprint of Clint Eastwood's elder stateman of acting and directing. This amalgamation of inspirational themes cuts a new notch on Eastwood's well-used viewfinder and is likely to bring this part of South Africa's destiny to the world's film and history lovers for a long time.

    Freeman is of such a stature on his own, that his representation of the great man is a foregone conclusion, and he turns in a satisfying portrait of an historical figure. More in the running is Damon who, being American for starters, makes his choice more adventuresome. But it affords him an opportunity to show his range and, in this time out, he masters the Afrikaans accent as a key part of a convincing portrayal. Combine his rugby captain with his zany corporate whistleblower ("The Informant") and about the best Jason Bourne imaginable through three solid versions ("The Bourne Identity", "The Bourne Supremacy", "The Bourne Ultimatum") and you have a portrait of one of the best actors on the current American range.

    The DVD does credit to all of this.

    Click for full list of movie reviews

                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  

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    Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar
    Captain of the South African rugby union team, the Springboks.

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