Two views on Invictus — plus my own.

January 2nd, 2010

First, my own basic reaction when my wife and I stepped out of the theater: “Nice movie.”

I thought that the story of Invictus was worth telling to a wide audience. I thought that Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon did fine work in their roles, and that they had an excellent supporting cast.

But, as Bill Simmons points out in his insightful column on the movie, Invictus ultimately failed as a sports movie because it didn’t put enough meat on the bones to explain why the underdog South African team won the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Along the way, he makes a few more excellent points:

  • Director Clint Eastwood made too many assumptions about Americans’ ability to intuit the rules and pacing of rugby — which is, after all, a complicated game.
  • Matt Damon is about my size, i.e. 5’10” and 175 – 185 pounds, and although he clearly bulked up for this role, he just didn’t have the physically imposing presence of Springboks captain Francois Pienaar. Check out this photo of Pienaar shaking hands with Mandela after winning the World Cup to see what I mean. According to his page on the South Africa Rugby site, Pienaar played at 6’3″ and 231 pounds. (My wife asks a relevant question here: is there any big-name actor who could have fit the bill physically?)
  • The movie got stuck trying to choose between being a great sports movie and being Significant, and ultimately fell short on both counts.

Simmons’ column — which I encourage you to read — took care of the sports side of Invictus. This item from Racism Review, which I found thanks to a friend from Twitter, addresses the Significant side, and particularly the approach of the movie to the subject of racial reconciliation:

“Invictus” : From a Different Perspective

. . . Mandela as represented here is a man who remains ever hopeful to appeal to the better side of whites. In the film, Mandela is a de-radicalized figure who personifies the notion that non-white activists and leaders should rely exclusively on forgiveness, understanding, and nonviolence for any hope of racial progress. There are moments in the film where you see blatant white racism. To Eastwood’s credit, racism in South African is portrayed as institutionalized and systemic; yet after two hours South Africa’s problems are a thing of the past after the national team wins the Rugby World Cup. . . .

As I said to my Twitter friend, while the movie addressed South African racism — and especially racial distrust — head-on, the view it ultimately presented was too hunky-dory, like a Dick-and-Jane story:

See Mandela preach reconciliation.

See Mandela embody forgiveness.

See Mandela bond with Pienaar.

See Pienaar lead the Springboks to victory.

See South Africa achieve reconciliation.

Now, that’s not quite fair to Eastwood, who’s a favorite of mine, and who had a picture to make for a certain budget and on a certain timetable. (As Simmons reminds us, Eastwood is famous for delivering the goods on time and under budget.) The fact that the movie was unsubtle — or, as Simmons puts it, lazy — doesn’t imply that Eastwood fails to appreciate the subtleties that underlay his story.

I just wish that he had unfolded some of those subtleties better or, maybe better, had let them simmer in the background while he made a great sports movie rather than the movie he made, which never became more than a nice way to pass a couple of hours in the theater.

Have you seen Invictus? What do you think about it?

One Response to “Two views on Invictus — plus my own.”

  1. Shannon Renee Says:

    My comment was too long, it became a post,

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