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  Publicity Stills of
(Courtesy of Warner Bros)

Genre: Drama/Biography
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Scott Eastwood, Langley Kirkwood, Robert Hobbs, Tony Kgoroge, Bonnie Henna, Grant Roberts
RunTime:1 hr 50 mins
Released By: Warner Bros
Rating: PG
Official Website:

Opening Day: 7 January 2010


The film tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa's rugby team to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa's rugby team as they make their historic run to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship match.

Movie Review:

"In my country, we go to prison first and then become President."– Nelson Mandela

Clint Eastwood’s latest masterpiece "Invictus" is in some ways long-awaited. There have always been talk of Morgan Freeman playing the South African leader in some biopic (given that the two do share many physical similarities and are in real life, firm friends) though that has not materialized till now. But "Invictus" isn’t a biopic of Mandela’s life, despite Freeman playing the leader. Rather, it is about a fragile moment in the country’s history- just after the end of apartheid- when Mandela was faced with the indomitable task of uniting a divided nation.

Mandela’s strategy turned to the sport of rugby, or to be precise, the green-and-gold wearing national rugby team, The Springboks. Eastwood’s opening sets the stage brilliantly for the events to follow. On one side of a road, the white South Africans are playing rugby; on the other their black counterparts are playing soccer. Suddenly, the blacks are seen running towards the road cheering as a motorcade drives by. The whites are puzzled, they ask their coach, he replies: "It’s the terrorist Mandela. They let him out. Remember this day, boys, this is the day our country went to the dogs."

It isn’t just that the game of rugby was a predominantly white-man sport, but also that the Springboks was a representation of the apartheid regime, so much so that the black South Africans would cheer for whoever was playing for the other side. When that regime was abolished, the blacks were eager to exact revenge following years of oppression. Among other things, they wanted to change the name of the Springboks as well as the colour of their uniform.

Instead, Mandela intervened, devising a half-instinctive, half-calculative strategy for the Springboks to be the pride of the country in the Rugby World Cup. "We have to prove we are not what they feared. We have to surprise them with compassion," Mandela tells those shocked at his decision to support the Springboks. The rest is history- and I’m sure if you wanted to know the outcome, you could very well just flip through the books. But "Invictus" the movie is about so much more than just a simple historical fact- instead, the beauty of Eastwood’s storytelling is how he turns the movie into a rousing depiction of the mood, the struggles and most of all, the men who made history.

In showing the distrust between the whites and the blacks, Eastwood and screenwriter Anthony Peckham have deftly included a well-sketched subplot involving Mandela’s security detail. The first day Mandela steps into office, his security chief (Adjoa Andoh) is taken aback that Mandela has appointed four white officers on their security team. "Forgiveness liberates the soul," he tells the chief, sensing their deep mutual distrust. "It removes fear. That is why it's such a powerful weapon." And in the days to come, their hostility will give way to mutual respect, and later on to friendship, a powerful allegory of the reconciliation process that Mandela tried to engender nationwide.

But Eastwood also lets us know intimately how Mandela’s mission of rebuilding his country was by no means an arduous process. He shows both Mandela’s struggle to convince the blacks of the two roads that would lead to a beautiful South Africa- goodness and forgiveness- as well as reassure the whites that his leadership would be one based on inclusion, not exclusion, and reconciliation, not revenge. Because he gets his audience personally invested in Mandela’s quest, Eastwood makes the payoff at the end all the sweeter. Yes, this reviewer can guarantee you that you will be deeply moved when you hear the crowds cheering and chanting for the Springboks in their final match against the New Zealand All Blacks.

Most of all, Eastwood does not forget to let us know the man, who for 27 years was incarcerated, breaking rocks in prison and sleeping on the hard floor, and the man who was ready to forgive the people who put him there the moment he was released. This is the man who believed and said this: "I’ve learnt that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." And even though this isn’t a biopic on Mandela, the picture that Eastwood paints of the great leader is no less rich nor vivid.

There is probably no other actor that can step into the shoes of Mandela than Morgan Freeman. He does not play Mandela so much as inhabit the character, imbuing the respected leader with great dignity and solemnity. His is a pitch-perfect performance that captures not just Mandela’s grace and compassion, but also his resilience and fortitude. Indeed, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to acclaim Freeman’s leading performance as the best of the year.

Though in a supporting role, Matt Damon proves that he is one of the best actors around. Last seen piling on the pounds in The Informant!, Damon is here fit and buff as Francois Pienaar, captain of the Springboks, whom Mandela enlists on his PR campaign to win the hearts of his countrymen. Though this movie is less about Pienaar than Mandela, Damon is in his own unassuming way very effective as a man transformed by his encounter by the shining example of a leader in Mandela.

Certainly, much deserving of praise is none other than director Clint Eastwood. The man, now 80, has once again produced one of the best films of the year- entertaining, inspiring, and most importantly, significant. It is significant because its message is one that needs to be told and heard amidst the shouts, gunfire and explosions that continue to tear at the delicate fabric of peace. If "Invictus" isn’t its personal best, it’s only because Eastwood has been such a consistently stellar director of late that it’s hard to find someone his equal.

And if you’re wondering where the film derives its title, "Invictus" is in fact the name of a short poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley. It’s not hard to understand why this was Mandela’s personal favourite and his source of inspiration:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Movie Rating:

(Inspiring and stirring, Eastwood delivers not just a rousing motion picture, but an important film about forgiveness and reconciliation)

Review by Gabriel Chong


. The Informant! (2009)

. Gran Torino (2008)

. The Good Shepherd DVD (2006)

. Catch A Fire DVD (2006)

. We Are Marshall DVD (2006)

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