Morgan Freeman has been everything. He has been an angel, the President of the United States, the leader of the illuminati, and even God. Now he gets to be Nelson Mandela. I have to admit, it is hard to see Mandela for the first half hour of Freeman being Mandela - such is the power of his personality, and the disassociation it sows. It's not worse, but not any better for Matt Damon - the first time you hear them spout the South African accent, you can't help but find it funny.
It takes a gradual while for Invictus to settle in and create its world, but when it does, it does a decent job of it. This is Clint Eastwood at work, and he knows how to get the everyman involved and present it in a gentle but firm way. The small vignettes he peppers the film with are worth more than the actual plot-driven drama, and the film is richer for those small pieces.
After a while when you feel Freeman settle into his skin too, you also get a rare glimpse into the mind of a politician who is supremely confident and aware of his charms, and has the rare gift of suggestion. He can say things without saying it, and people understand and comply. Mandela is not painted as a messiah, but as a leader - who has to employ that smile, that mannerism, and most of all that charisma on a daily basis to actually lead his people.
Damon's FranÃ§ois Pienaar is the exact opposite. Affable and yet straightforward, he is the leader of men by being one of the men, and setting a straight example to follow. The dichotomy is rich and ripe for interpretation, though Eastwood is only interested in little tidbits of the whole story. The film's structure starts wide, and studies the role of leaders in modern society, and tries to convey their tools and effectiveness.
By the time it ends, Invictus is almost exclusively about the Rugby World Cup match that South Africa must win for Mandela's plan to unite the country to work, and though the sports movie vibe it imbues feels a little cathartic, it never feels complete. This is the curse of the movie - it is shot like, it feels like, and is made out to be, a Great Film, while it's just good.
Which means it feels like a slap when you say it isn't all it could be. While the truth is simply this: Invictus is a perfectly good film that has some good moments by the actors, has a neat little narrative, and some very beautiful moments staged by Eastwood. It doesn't have problems - not the kind films these days have, anyway. It's perfectly fine. It isn't a Great Film, though - and the lack of Oscars (and nominations for anything other than acting) should tell you that.
But why must it be judged as one? Because it is presented like one, and has beats to resemble one. None of those beats works against the film, though they do not work to elevate it either. The movie devolves into an engaging but disaffecting sports film by the last 20 minutes where it is all Rugby, while it had the potential to be a great human drama - and perhaps the expectations it raises by opening it so brilliantly are the reason I have to apologise for what it is every time.
The movie has some mirrors it raises to our society as well. Mandela finds himself using a sport as a political tool for peace and a tool to try and unite many tribal nations and cultures of South Africa under one strong voice. He wants the nation to rally behind this one victory and what it means to them. As Indians we will absolutely love this unintentional subtext to the proceedings, and we think so will the others.
Invictus is decidedly a good film, and you should definitely watch it for what it is. It is an enjoyable time at the cinemas, and some food for thought for our own country's obsession with a sport and the need to accord it higher meaning.