At first glance Invictus is a sports movie. It is about South Africa’s victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. That was early in Nelson Mandela’s first term as the country’s first black president. Most of the screen time goes to Morgan Freeman’s riveting portrayal of Mandela. Matt Damon’s role as Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Rugby team, isn’t nearly as critical to the plot, nor as compelling. So I would classify Invictus more as a political movie.

When Mandela is freed from prison and elected to the presidency, he steps into a situation where he is leading a divided country. The blacks are extremely bitter over the oppression they had suffered under the recently repealed Apartheid laws and the whites are certain that Mandela will lead them down the road to ruin and corruption followed by so many other African nations. One of the symbols of white power, at least in the eyes of the blacks, is the Springboks, the national rugby team, which only has one black player. It’s so bad that they actually root against the team. The Rugby World Cup is coming to South Africa and as the host country’s team, the Springboks are automatic qualifiers. Mandela, who used to play rugby in his youth, sees this situation as an opportunity to unite his country about something, so he develops a relationship with Pienaar and encourages him to inspire the team.

Anybody who’s read this blog for awhile, knows that I have great admiration for Clint Eastwood as a director. His spare almost artless style, with few special effects and no sentimentality is a refreshing change of pace in this day and age. But he chose to make a political film, when what he he needed to make a cheesy sports film. I felt for Mandela but that’s about it. The rest is pretty much dry and uninspired.  We are shown the uniting effects of the match, but we don’t feel them. People complain that sports films are cliche ridden overly sentimental. I’ve always said that they should be that way and that you’d miss the sentiment and the cliches if they weren’t there.

Invictus proves my point.


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