For genuine uplift, I direct you to Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, another in a remarkable run of Eastwood films (including Changeling),with an intelligent script from Anthony Peckham (from John Carlin’s book) and an excellent performance from Morgan Freeman as the newly-elected South African president—and former inmate–Nelson Mandela. Facing challenges from a torn nation beset by lingering racial tensions, unemployment and crime, Mandela resolves to unify the nation through—rugby.
By urging the reviled Springboks (by blacks) to excel in the World Cup–with South Africa is hosting Mandela hopes to revive his country’s sagging spirits and unify the racial divisiveness. It’s no small task, as the Springboks are not a particularly good team–and a reviled symbol of the old system of apartheid. He also encounters opposition from the athletic council, who would like to disband the Springboks. However, Mandela finds an ally in the team’s captain Francois Piennar, played with vigor and compassion by Matt Damon. Slowly but surely—with Piennar’s urging, the team gets used to the idea of being a symbol, and they exceed everyone’s expectations, except perhaps Mandela’s and Pieenar’s. There is however that final match against a pretty fearsome New Zealand team…
Invictus works on a number of levels: sports film (though I still don’t get rugby), a look at a country trying to find itself and overcome the horrors and betrayals of the past.
The uneasy truce in the government between the Afrikaners who represent the old regime and the blacks who are justifiably distrustful reflects the general unease in the country. At the center of it all is a superb Freeman performance. His Mandela is no saint: he is tireless, inspirational, a little roguish, observant, perceptive, but aware of his mortality as well as his own failings as a father and husband–and the tenuous nature of his position. It ‘s Freeman’s best work in years and another example of Eastwood’s late career renaissance.