Invictus’ action is caught in a scrum
Invictus (it means unconquered, I had to look it up too) is a story about Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) and his quest to unify an apartheid-riddled South Africa through the game of rugby in the early 1990s.
The story begins with Mandela’s release from prison. He becomes elected president and immediately begins work on bringing his country together. However, the movie drags along at a snail’s pace for about an hour. For a movie dealing with a vicious sport such as rugby, I was expecting it to move along much more quickly and with a lot of brute force, as I would find in a rugby match. I forgot about “scrums” (a play in rugby where the two sets of forwards mass together around the ball and, with their heads down, struggle to gain possession of the ball) that can take a while to produce any kind of action. And, this movie did exactly that.
The movie has some very strong moments, though. One in particular was where director Clint Eastwood took a small fraction of the people of South Africa and used them to show what was happening on a larger scale. He did this by focusing on Mandela’s security detail. Mandela had rehired the old security detail (a bunch of white guys) to work with his personal bodyguards (a bunch of black guys) to protect him. Mandela used these two groups as an example of how he wanted his fellow countrymen to act. Eastwood couldn’t show all 42 million South Africans having disagreements so he took eight people to tell the story of cooperation through their actions. Great job, I get it.
So, what about the rugby? Wasn’t this supposed to be a movie about rugby? Yes, I think it was supposed to be. It was also a movie about Mandela’s quest to bring people together. The rugby was used well, and not knowing enough about the sport, I wasn’t totally engulfed by the action scenes. There was one scene where the South African rugby team taught impoverished youths the rules of rugby. Here I wish they had capitalized on the scene more by telling the audience what goes on in a rugby match. It wasn’t until the last 20 minutes where we were finally wowed with some gritty rugby action during the 1995 World Cup.
Should you see this movie? Tough question. If I say no, I go against the Eastwood/ Freeman establishment, which I don’t want to do because I think Freeman should get an Oscar nod for his portrayal of Mandela. If I say yes, I wouldn’t say it enthusiastically. So I’ll say this, if you want a biopic on Nelson Mandela’s life, don’t see this movie; and if you want a rough, in- your-face rugby movie, don’t see this movie. But, if you want a little bit of both, then by all means take two hours and go see it.