Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
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"Invictus" is one of those rare Hollywood offerings that fully embraces and completely draws you into an inspiring moment in history. With Morgan Freeman starring as Nelson Mandela, this is so much more than just a biographical sketch of a single man; this is the story of an entire nation in the throws of tenuous and painful change.
Fighting to keep his country from civil war and working to change South Africa's image as an international pariah, Mandela sees an opportunity to bring his countrymen together with sports. The president invites Francois Peinaar, the captain of the national rugby team, to meet with him. With eloquence and charm, Mandela lets it be known that he's more than casually interested in seeing the Springboks win the 1995 World Cup.
Matt Damon is terrific as Peinaar, who clearly gets the message and is clearly inspired by Mandela. There are a few problems here, not the least of which is the fact that to black South Africans, the green and gold, and even the name "Springbok" is a reminder of apartheid. But, Mandela fights the efforts to change the team's colors and name, realizing it would do irreparable damage and instill resentment among those who feared his government was simply out to exact retribution.
Without discounting any of the supporting roles -- which, by the way, are superb -- this film hangs on two performances: Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Peinaar.
As if Freeman's legacy wasn't already carved in stone, this film will be the role he's remembered for. He so completely becomes his character that in the end credits, when we see images of the real Mandela, it's almost jarring. And, with past performances that have been all over the charts, Damon just couldn't have been better; it's easy to buy not only his rugby prowess but his accent, as well.
Director Clint Eastwood brilliantly brings all of the complexities of this story together without getting preachy or heavy-handed. "Invictus" easily could have become a political statement or just an inspiring sports story, but Eastwood delivers more. A very human experience unfolds that touches every cord.
I loved this movie. "Invictus" gets the full four stars and it's rated PG-13 for very brief, strong language.