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January 2nd, 2010 at 4:26:32 PM permalink
Wow. Clint Eastwood Directing. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon acting. The story about Nelson Mandella in the years right after he is freed and becomes president of South Africa. I saw Clint last year at a film festival talk about this movie and I've been waiting... How can this not be a recipe for success?

Well, Clint found a way. A short summary first.

Based on a true story (of course), the film is about the healing that took place in S.A. in the 4 year period after Nelson Mandella was released from prison and subsequently elected president of South Africa, circa 1991 to 1995. What a better way to bring the country together than sports? And what better sport than Rugby? So Freeman (Mandella) meets with Damon (who is playing the part of the captain of the Rugby team) and gives him a pep talk. Two hours of movie watching later the South Africa team is in the big game to win the World Cup of Rugby. Guess who won?

There are many problems with the film. My first complaint is that the characters have no depth or internal struggles.

Mandella's character is flat. His lines are one gem of wisdom after another, from the Ghandi-esque to the Martin-Luther-King-esque. There is no effort to develop the character or to show what it was like for him to suddenly find himself in this incredible new place in his life. He was just instantly able to pull it all togehter, with no emotional demons from his 30 years in prison to work out. There are faux relationship problems, with his kid, wife, etc, but they seem added on.

The Damon character is also flat. He is the humble servant of his team and Mandella. He has no problem being awed by Mandella. Wow, that's interesting, no conflict, no personal growth, no depth.

There are a host of other characters tossed in to make it look like there is conflict. These characters are almost selected at random. I'm guessing Mandella didn't have many close associates immediately after he got out of prison, so incidental people had to be used to create conflict. For example, the security guards are featured over and over again. They seem to grow in their own idiocycratic way. The blacks come to like rugby and to find a way to like the white security guards.

So, it's mainly a sports movie, and as such you know where it's going. Unlike "Miracle" there is no miracle here. The team was already very good, ranked in the top 8 in the world. It just took some extra effort and a bit of luck to win it all. Somehow, Mandella is getting credit for having the insight that rugby is going to be the mechanism for healing scores of years of racial hatred. And the film gives every indication that the country went from racially divided to racially healed in the duration of one game of rugby.

Some of the scenes are just plain gimmicky and insulting, like when the commerical airliner buzzes the stadium and it looks like a terrorist captain wants to crash it and kill Mandella. Bring up emotional images of 9-11 out of context, eh? The music kept getting forboding, like something was going to happen that was bad, then suddenly, over and over again, nothing happened. Come on!

The final scene, when the team wins , goes on for literally 8 minutes (yes, I timed it). How long can it go on? Well, it just kept going and going. The slow motion scenes, the final goal, the celebration, back and forth between all the characters, the trophy presentation, the dancing in the street, and the wise old eyes of Mr. Mandella. And what is "Invictus?" It's the poem Mandella memorized during his 30 years in prison, that somehow was serving as a metaphor for the spiritual inspiration that helped the S.A. team win the big game.

I have to say one good thing. Matt Damon looked better physically than I ever remember seeing him in any movie. He was totally buff.

At the end of the movie a few people applauded. How could they not? I mean, it's Mandella and Freeman and all that. It seems almost rude not to applaud freeing and inspiring an oppressed people. I managed not to applaud.

So, I hated the movie, just hated it. It had so much potential and fell so very very far short. This was Clint's chance to make THE definitive Mandella movie and he f***ed it up, bigtime!

Next time I write a review, I'll tell you what I really think.

"Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness!"
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