There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a good biopic or sports movie. A
good biopic usually tells you something about a famous person that you
might not have known – for good or bad. Most good sports movies tell
underdog stories where untrained teams defy the odds – even if they
lose in the end. But nothing is more painful than bad versions of
either genre. Director Clint Eastwood did a great job of blending two
bad examples of each within Invictus.
The first half of Invictus focuses on the post-prison life of famous
South African president Nelson Mandela. The second half tells the story
of the South African rugby team (the Springboks) that Mandela
challenged to win the world cup.
For those too young to know the story of Mandela, be prepared to learn
nothing about him. Eastwood expects you to already know his whole story
going into it. There’s is no pre-prison information given. Invictus
begins with him being released from prison in February 1990, then
without any warning jumps to him being elected to the presidency.
Although he won with the majority vote, the movie portrays him as not
having any followers. It seems like no one – black or white – trusts in
him nor his decisions.
Trying to unite his country, Mandela gets involved in the nation’s most
popular sport – rugby. The only problem is that the blacks associate
the Springboks as being the oppressive white man’s team. So, Mandela
challenges team captain Francois Pienaar to take his losing team to the
world cup, giving everyone in the nation something to take pride in –
no matter the color of the skin.
The second half of Invictus shows the team in action, taking on the
most challenging opponents in world. But there are two big problems
with this: One, the team never does anything to get better. No
training, speeches or pep-talks. Two, they never bother to explain any
part of the game of rugby. You never know what’s going on. One guy will
kick the ball to the other team, who kicks it back in return, just to
have that same first kicker kick it once more through the goal posts. I
feel like I understand the made-up, complicated, barely-explained game
of Whack-Bat (from Fantastic Mr. Fox) more than I do rugby, which is a
real-life popular game outside the United States.
Unless you mastered in South Africa with an emphasis on Nelson Mandela
and a minor in the sport of rugby, you’re not going to understand any
single part of Invictus.
And as if the storytelling wasn’t bad enough, having Morgan Freeman
play Nelson Mandela is a complete joke. I’ve never lived in South
Africa, but I know what that accent is and isn’t supposed to sound like
– and it’s not supposed to sound like that. Freeman sounds like
post-dental work Freeman for the first half and completely gives up on
the accent in the second half. Outshining him in the most wasted role
of his career is Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar – who changes his
entire persona for a small role that isn’t challenging in the slightest
bit. Damon has a chiseled muscular body and an amazing South African
accent so thick and defined that it’s one hundred percent
unrecognizable as being his own voice. The performances between the two
are night and day.
If you are dying to see a sports biopic, don’t settle for Invictus – go
see The Blind Side. As much as I hated The Blind Side, I have to
recommend it as being a better film based solely on the fact that you
can laugh at how bad it is. You never know what’s going on in Invictus,
making it painfully hard to roll your eyes at.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.