Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in 'Invictus'

The indefatigable Clint Eastwood has made the best movie of the year ... the best movie, that is, about rugby. Invictus is very solid, very earnest, and very, very earthbound, falling short of the emotional heights to which it aspires.

Undoubtedly, the true story of Nelson Mandela is inspiring. His desire to showcase the sport of rugby as a means to help unite 40 million South Africans, or at least to contribute to the healing process after decades of division based on racial and cultural lines, is admirable and heartwarming. It demonstrates his deep understanding of the human condition and his recognition of the importance of team sports in the lives of ordinary people.

Morgan Freeman is splendid as Mandela, embodying the undying fire and humble demeanor of a man who lost more than a quarter century of his life to unjust imprisonment. Matt Damon is effective as Francois Pienaar, a man who prefers to lead the Springboks, the all-white (save one) South African national rugby team, by his example rather than his words. And Clint Eastwood directs with his usual restrained precision, which is the film's greatest strength and its most glaring weakness.

Over his long career as a director, Eastwood has developed an outwardly informal style of filmmaking. The settings and backgrounds are sharply defined; actors, both in lead and supporting roles, are given room to define their characters; the pace is languid and measured, never in much of a hurry to get to the end.