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Invictus (2009)

Invictus is Latin for "unconquered" and is also the name of the poem by William Ernest Henley that Nelson Mandela turned to in times when he needed inspiration. Invictus the movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, centers around the beginning of the Nelson Mandela presidency. Mandela (Morgan Freeman) knows he has to unite post-apartheid country before tackling major issues like poverty, crime, and education. He decides to focus on using the South African rugby team, the Springboks, as a political tool; they must win the 1995 Rugby World Cup and bring the South African whites and blacks together. Fran├žois Pienaar, the Springbok's captain played by Matt Damon, forms a relationship with Mandela based on their mutual leadership roles and need for inspiration.

Like all movies based on rather famous true stories, we already know how Invictus ends. It's how the movie gets to its end that becomes the focus. Clint Eastwood seems to be very good at manipulating emotions. He picks just the right stories that will tug at your heart strings and films them in a way that makes the sentiment of the film impossible to ignore. At times, this is just cheesy (i.e. showing the crowd cheering in slow motion up to the Springbok's game winning score). At other times, the cheesiness is outweighed by reality; this is not just a movie, this really happened. One such moment is when Pienaar is shows Mandela's cell when he was in prison. He looks down and sees the thin blankets on the floor that were his bed. He spreads his arms out while in the cell to see how small it is. He imagines Mandela sitting in the single chair, reading and never giving up hope. The scene is filmed in Mandela's actual cell, so even though it seems a bit gratuitous and the transparent Mandela sitting in the chair juxtaposed over Pienaar seems a bit too much, it doesn't matter.

I'm really a stickler for a movie being good only on the grounds of its production, its form. The movie in and of itself is not great. Sure, the acting is good (both Freeman and Damon were nominated for acting Oscars), but the story, the filming, and the writing are the same as just about every other sports movie ever made. The underdog always comes out on top and the same story is retold once again. However, what most sports movies don't have is the incredibly charismatic character of Mandela and the historical significance of something as monumental as the apartheid. Even if Invictus does follow the same old formula, it's a shining example of what the formula should be.

Writing: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Plot: 6/10
Visuals: 6/10


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