Movie Review: Invictus

Movie Review: Invictus



PG-13 for brief strong language.
Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

Invictus tells the 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 underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.

Based on the John Carlin book entitled The Human Factor: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed The World, Invictus is directed by Clint Eastwood.

A Politically Charged Sports Movie

Morgan Freeman plays anti-apartheid activist and former South African President Nelson Mandela. Like the Carlin book, the movie is set just after the fall of apartheid and during Mandela’s first term in office. Invictus explores how the political prisoner-turned-President used the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which was hosted by South Africa, as a means of bringing blacks and whites together after decades of violence and mistrust. Alongside Freeman, Matt Damon co-stars as rugby player Francois Pienaar.

Invictus is an amazing movie that walks a tight-rope between a sports bio-pic and a political bio-pic. Our son attended the screening with me. On the drive home he said – “I really liked the movie. It’s really good. I had no idea what to expect when it started.” I agree with his comment about the flick. I too didn’t really know what to expect. I knew Morgan Freeman would be great, he usually is. However, I wondered how those involved with Invictus would describe the story of both Nelson Mandela and rugby star Francois Pienaar in one movie.

When all is said and done, I have to say “Well done”
to director Clint Eastwood.

I also applaud Eastwood for the content of Invictus. Many times those involved with such a movie insert vulgar and profane language throughout the flick to add a certain amount of shock factor. Eastwood does not stoop to such a level. While there are brief language moments, for the most part this is a movie depicting the first year of President Mandela’s term and his attempt to bring reconciliation in a divided South Africa.

But, even after saying that, I have to say this is a Cautionary Family-Friendly movie. Not that there’s a lot of over the top material in the movie, but it is a little too edgy to say it’s family-friendly.

The Human Factor

Out of the night that covers me…
In the fell clutch of circumstance…
I am the master of my fate…
I am the captain of my soul.

Excerpts from the William Ernest Henley poem entitled Invictus.

Those words, become not only the driving force behind the movie, but they also represent the transformation moment for Nelson Mandela while sitting in prison for 30 years. He found a way to forgive his captors, learn from his experience and situation, and in turn, use those lessons to transform the mindset of an entire nation.

Invictus is more than just a political or sports movie.

This is a movie that looks at the human condition, and how one deals with adversity. But, it goes deeper than that. Invictus is also about leadership, integrity and setting an example for others to follow. By the end of the movie we discover Nelson Mandela was a man who lived what he believed. He set an example of tolerance, forgiveness and not dwelling in the past. In one stirring scene he does not encourage the crowd to simply forget the bad experiences of the past. But he does encourage them to move beyond them and allow those experiences to strengthen them in a resolve to better not only their personal situation, but the situation of others around them.

Then, when you couple the political side of the movie with the sports side of the flick, you suddenly discover a movie with wide audience appeal. Matt Damon excels and shines in his role as Francois Pienaar. He fits the bill perfectly as the athlete with an edge. In the midst of the edge, he’s also trying to rise to the leadership position he finds himself in. He’s more than just a foil for Mandela. He’s also more than just a student of Mandela. It seems both men learn and lean on one another as they both work toward a common goal of transforming a divided nation, into a single nation.

All in all, Invictus is a great movie.

The balance and tension of the political and sports story-lines create a sense of anticipation. However, clocking in at slightly more than 2 hours, it is a little long. There are a few scenes that could have been left on the editing room floor which would have tighten the overall movie up some. There aren’t a lot of slow moments, but there are enough which in turn made me look at my watch from time to time. While this is rather low on the totem pole of criticism, if it were a little shorter, it could have been a slightly stronger movie.

As for historical context, while it is a based on true story movie, there’s enough history in here to provide some great learning moments too. South Africa was a nation truly torn in two when Nelson Mandela became President. He set out to mold the division, back together again. Morgan Freeman is stellar in his performance and truly does deserve an award for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela.

When all is said and done….

The heartbeat of this movie is found in the final two lines
of the poem…

I am the master of my fate…
I am the captain of my soul.

Many fall into a victim mindset and lose site of their purpose and destiny. Through the depiction of the lives of Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar there are powerful life lessons to be learned here as well.

Enjoy the show!
Dr. Rus

About the Author

Dr. Rus has 30+ years experience in the field of communication. He takes this experience, and his passion to encourage others to positively effect their environment, when providing insight and movie reviews.