Invictus posterClint Eastwood's Invictus is the stirring biographical portrait of the legendary Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), who, as the new leader of South Africa, turns to the national rugby team and its captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to bring his people together as the country host the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Find out now what we thought of it... img hspace="4" border="1" align="right" vspace="4" src="" id="vimage_1" alt="Invictus poster" />Invictus (12A)

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng
Director: Clint Eastwood
Film length: 133 minutes
Trailer: Watch it here
Interview with director Clint Eastwood: Go here

What's it all about? How do you make a movie about a heroic legend? Reverential biopics can be fatally lacking in conflict, as evidenced by the recent stodgy celebration of aviator Amelia Earhart, Amelia. Didn't see it? You're not alone. In Invictus, director Eastwood savvily focuses on one particular challenge faced by President Nelson Mandela: how to unite a country riven by decades of racial conflict. The South African premier counter-intuitively identifies his country's upcoming hosting of the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a great opportunity for nation building, rallying the black majority behind a former hated symbol of Apartheid: the Springboks. But it won't work unless the mediocre team, led by Captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), transforms into a winning machine.

What's good about it? The good news is that you don't have to know or care too much about rugby to enjoy Invictus. In fact, there's some helpful, if clumsy, exposition explaining the rules of the sport and the mechanics of the tournament's league and knockout phases – presumably aimed at American audiences. Morgan Freeman can do wise and dignified in his sleep, making him an obvious (too obvious?) choice to play Mandela, while a South African-accented Matt Damon lends his considerable star power and charisma to the under-written role of Pienaar.

What's not so good? Freeman may have caught the cadences of Mandela's speech accurately, but he sure takes his time about it. The pace isn't so much leisurely as downright stately. Eastwood used to be a director with lean, pared impulses, but he seems to have misplaced his sense of urgency.

Verdict: Despite the expansion of the Best Picture Oscar category to ten nominees, the Academy voters couldn't find a spot for Invictus. We're not too surprised. It's a thoroughly decent inspiring drama, but just not special enough to earn its place alongside The Hurt Locker, Precious and the year's other most notable filmic achievements.

Rating: 6 out of 10

categories Reviews