Clint Eastwood has quickly become the tour de force of Hollywood, a director that any studio would love to have in the stable. After Million Dollar Baby netted Best Picture and Best Director at the 2004 Academy Awards, Eastwood movies have become a staple at annual award shows. With how the Academy warms to biopic movies, this year’s Invictus will surely continue down the same path.
I remember reading Time for Kids in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa. It wasn’t until after seeing Invictus that I can begin to understand what Mandela has meant to South Africa and the rest of the world. By showing compassion and love to both enemies and friends, Mandela united a nation and region destroyed by decades of war, racial segregation, and apartheid. Although only a brief portrayal of Mandela’s career, Invictus will allow American audiences to attach the deeds of Mandela with his name, which is already world renown
Invictus follows Mandela and South Africa’s preparation for the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Morgan Freeman (Mandela) is supported by Matt Damon in the role of Francois Pienaar, rugby captain for the South African Springboks. The film picks up the day Mandela assumes power, balancing a narrow fold by never becoming too political or too sports oriented. The plot focuses on how rugby contributed to Mandela’s diplomatic policy and how it contributed to stabilizing the divided nation.
Invictus, while not great, delivers a powerful message. Eastwood certainly has amateur moments, such as shoving inspirational music down the throats of the audience. This was coupled with the fact that I found Morgan Freeman too identifiable. I was too often reminded of rough characters (like Scrap from Million Dollar Baby) that Freeman had portrayed in the past. This is a problem that biopic movies always face. Previous efforts like Ray, Walk the Line, Capote, and The Last King of Scotland were able to excel because they stared relatively unknown leads. Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash in Walk the Line) and Forest Whitaker (Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland) believably portrayed their roles because they hadn’t starred in blockbusters or epics like Wanted and The Shawshank Redemption. Even with this, Freeman portrayed Mandela well and deserves the early Oscar buzz. Damon was relatively strong, often carrying the rest of the unknown, South African actors who portrayed the Springbok rugby team. Eastwood continues his use of local actors: aside from Damon and Mandela, the cast is primarily comprised of South African nationals.
Invictus brings to light the horrible racial prejudice that still exists in the 21st century. I couldn’t help but think of Bobby Kennedy in the final moments, a man who might have been as important as Mandela had his life not been taken by a nameless, selfish individual. Kennedy mentions in his speech, On The Mindless Menace of Violence, “but we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”
As I was taking a bathroom break after the movie I was approached by a middle-aged black man who asked me, “How is my white brother doing tonight?” If but only for a moment in time, we both recognized what we shared. Later in the parking lot I was asked by another black man if I could spare change for his car that had run out of gas. He said, “My friend told me that I would never get money from a white man.” I gave him my last dollar. I wasn’t trying to be charitable. I was trying to help a friend in need.
Nearly two months before his death, Robert Kennedy would ask one thing. He closed his speech saying, “surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.” Mandela has taught but a fragment of the globe to view enemies with kindness, compassion, and clemency. I can only hope that Invictus will inspire a new generation of leaders poised to eradicate the disease of prejudice. The art of cinema has a global outreach and ability to inspire that humanitarian or awareness groups do not. Eastwood is obviously drawing on this ability to share with the world a story of conquering racial prejudice entrenched in apartheid and uprooted by Mandela.