Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Clint Eastwood|
|Produced by||Clint Eastwood
|Screenplay by||Anthony Peckham|
|Based on||Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation
by John Carlin
|Music by||Kyle Eastwood
|Edited by||Joel Cox
Gary D. Roach
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Running time||133 minutes|
Invictus is a 2009 biographical sports drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The story is based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which was hosted in that country following the dismantling of apartheid. Freeman and Damon play, respectively, South African President Nelson Mandela and François Pienaar, the captain of the South Africa rugby union team, the Springboks.
Invictus was released in the United States on December 11, 2009. The title Invictus may be translated from the Latin as "undefeated" or "unconquered", and is the title of a poem by British poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903).
On February 11, 1990, South Africa President Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison after having spent 27 years in jail. Four years later, Mandela is elected the first black President of South Africa. His presidency faces enormous challenges in the post-Apartheid era, including rampant poverty and crime, and Mandela is particularly concerned about racial divisions between black and white South Africans, which could lead to violence. The ill will which both groups hold towards each other is seen even in his own security detail where relations between the established white officers, who had guarded Mandela's predecessors, and the black ANC additions to the security detail, are frosty and marked by mutual distrust.
While attending a game between the Springboks, the country's rugby union team, and England, Mandela recognizes that the blacks in the stadium are cheering for England, as the mostly-white Springboks represent prejudice and apartheid in their minds; he remarks that he did the same while imprisoned on Robben Island. Knowing that South Africa is set to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup in one year's time, Mandela persuades a meeting of the newly black-dominated South African Sports Committee to support the Springboks. He then meets with the captain of the Springboks rugby team, François Pienaar, and implies that a Springboks victory in the World Cup will unite and inspire the nation. Mandela also shares with François a British poem, "Invictus", that had inspired him during his time in prison.
François and his teammates train. Many South Africans, both black and white, doubt that rugby will unite a nation torn apart by nearly 50 years of racial tensions, as for many blacks, especially the radicals, the Springboks symbolise white supremacy. Both Mandela and Pienaar, however, stand firmly behind their theory that the game can successfully unite the South African country.
Things begin to change as the players interact with the fans and begin a friendship with them. During the opening games, support for the Springboks begins to grow among the black population. By the second game, the whole country comes together to support the Springboks and Mandela's efforts. Mandela's security team also grows closer as the various officers come to respect their comrades' professionalism and dedication.
The Springboks surpass all expectations and qualify for the final against The All Blacks—South Africa's arch-rivals. New Zealand and South Africa were universally regarded as the two greatest rugby nations, with the Springboks being the only side to have a winning record against the All Blacks up to this point. The first test series between the two countries in 1921 was the beginning of an intense rivalry, with emotions running high whenever the two nations met on the rugby field.
Before the game, the Springbok team visits Robben Island, where Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail. There Pienaar is inspired by Mandela's will and his idea of self-mastery in "Invictus". François mentions his amazement that Mandela "could spend thirty years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put [him] there".
Supported by a large home crowd of all races, Pienaar motivates his team. Mandela's security detail receives a scare when, just before the match, a South African Airways Boeing 747 jetliner flies in low over the stadium. It is not an assassination attempt though, but a demonstration of patriotism, with the message "Good Luck, Bokke" — the Springboks' Afrikaans nickname — painted on the undersides of the plane's wings. The Springboks win the match on an added time long drop-kick from fly-half Joel Stransky, with a score of 15–12. Mandela and Pienaar meet on the field together to celebrate the improbable and unexpected victory. Mandela's car then drives away in the traffic-jammed streets leaving the stadium. As Mandela watches the South Africans celebrating together from the car, his voice is heard reciting.
The film is based on the book Playing the Enemy: Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin. The filmmakers met with Carlin for a week in his Barcelona home, discussing how to transform the book into a screenplay. Morgan Freeman was the first actor to be cast, as Mandela. Matt Damon was then cast as team captain François, despite being significantly smaller than him and much smaller than members of the current Springbok squad. He was given intensive coaching by Carl Cox, another star of the 1995 team, at the Gardens Rugby League Club. Filming began in March 2009 in Cape Town. "In terms of stature and stars, this certainly is one of the biggest films ever to be made in South Africa," said Laurence Mitchell, the head of the Cape Film Commission. On March 18, 2009, Scott Eastwood was cast as flyhalf Joel Stransky (whose drop goal provided the Springboks' winning margin in the 1995 final). Over Christmas 2008, auditions had taken place in London to try to find a well-known British actor to play Pienaar's father, but in March it was decided to cast a lesser-known South African actor instead. The ex–Bath Rugby player Zak Feaunati was cast as New Zealand player Jonah Lomu. Primary filming in South Africa was completed in May 2009. Grant L. Roberts was cast as Ruben Kruger, who was the Springboks' other starting flanker in 1995.
Invictus was met with generally positive reviews. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 76% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 218 reviews, with an average score of 6.6/10. The critical consensus is: "Delivered with typically stately precision from director Clint Eastwood, Invictus may not be rousing enough for some viewers, but Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman inhabit their real-life characters with admirable conviction."
Anthony Peckham's sturdy, functional screenplay, based on John Carlin's book Playing the Enemy, can be a bit on the nose (and the message songs Eastwood adds are overkill). Yet the lapses fade in the face of such a soul-stirring story — one that would be hard to believe if it were fiction. The wonder of Invictus is that it actually went down this way.
It is a very good film. It has moments evoking great emotion, as when the black and white members of the presidential security detail (hard-line ANC activists and Afrikaner cops) agree with excruciating difficulty to serve together. And when Damon's character — François Pienaar, as the team captain — is shown the cell where Mandela was held for those long years on Robben Island. My wife, Chaz, and I were taken to the island early one morning by Ahmed Kathrada, one of Mandela's fellow prisoners, and yes, the movie shows his very cell, with the thin blankets on the floor. You regard that cell and you think, here a great man waited in faith for his rendezvous with history.
Shave Magazine's Jake Tomlinson wrote:
Eastwood's film shows how sport can unify people, a straightforward and moving message that leaves audiences cheering. The sports, accurate portrayal and the solid storyline earn this movie a manliness rating of 3/5. However, the entertainment value, historical accuracy and strong message this movie delivers earn it an overall rating of 4.5 stars. Definitely, worth seeing.
Inspirational on the face of it, Clint Eastwood's film has a predictable trajectory, but every scene brims with surprising details that accumulate into a rich fabric of history, cultural impressions and emotion.
Don Beck, who had helped the rugby team succeed in 1995 as a close friend and adviser to coach Kitch Christie and team captain François Pienaar, found the film faithful to the true story. He remarked: “I thought it was steady and balanced.”
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards (2010)
The film was nominated for four awards from the Broadcast Film Critics' Association in the following categories:
Golden Globe Awards (2010)
The film was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards in the following categories:
National Board of Review (2009)
The film was nominated for two awards from the National Board of Review in the following categories:
Screen Actors Guild Awards (2010)
The film was nominated for two awards from the Screen Actors' Guild in the following categories:
WAFCA Awards (2009)
The film was nominated for two awards from the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association awards in the following categories:
The film was released on May 18, 2010 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Special features include
The Blu-ray release included a digital copy and additional special features:
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