Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are both brilliant in Invictus (2009). Sure, their accents fade out now and then (it’s the pallet; they didn’t practice a raised taut pallet often enough), but the accents of whites in Africa are particularly difficult to do, which Leonardo Di Caprio demonstrated earlier in Blood Diamond (2006), as these accents are influenced by the sounds of African languages.
Invictus is a Latin word that means undefeated or unconquered. It is also the title of a poem by William Ernest Henley (1875). Invictus (2010), worthy of Academy Award attention, is the story of the triumph of humanity over inhumanity as it tells the joint stories of Nelson Mandela’s leadership and the role of the once disbanded all-white South African Springbok rugby team; all-white until Chester Williams made the cut under Mandela’s decision to reinstate the Springboks. As Invictus reveals, Mandela believed that “Rugby is a human calculation,” the inspiration to unite black South Africans with white South Africans, for, as he said, “The whites are all cheering for South Africa. The blacks are all cheering for England,” they were un-united.
Before Mandela’s Rainbow government, black South Africans were not permitted to shake hands with a white person, tourist or citizen; in stores and hospitals, conversations were carried on by one person speaking in Africaans and the other answering in English because of the deep animosity between ethnic groups; black women with babies traveled twenty and thirty miles by train to beg for work as maids; Americans were accused of secretly knowing Africaans and refusing to speak it; Jews walked on opposite sides of the street from Germans. The many hatreds ran so deep between all people, especially white and black, that no one and nothing could escape it.
Mandela strove to find the inspiration to change those all pervading hatreds, born of the first hatred between black and white, which spread like a cancer to form many hatreds. Mandela’s hope for inspiration was Francois Pienaar, Afrikaaner captain of the Springbok’s, who had a powerful leadership of his own. Springbok are a beautiful and graceful brown and white South African gazelle with an enchanting habit of repeatedly leaping high in the air. Farmers in South Africa, for example in the Karoo, run herds of Springbok on their thousands and thousands of hectares of land for the beauty of them (and the hunting…).
Invictus has several exquisite moments of superb acting rendering the superb humanity behind the story. One such is given us by Matt Damon. During the eventful rugby match, Damon as Pienaar, listens to the crowd singing, as had really been the case in 1995, and says to his team mates, “Look in my eyes...Listen to your country...This is our destiny.” The humanity in that moment, when Pienaar beheld the unity of a country in the song of rugby fans, and Mandela beheld national inspiration in the sweat of a rugged rugby team, transcended, as Mandela hoped it would, into courage to keep trying to surmount an impossible task, that of bringing unity to the bedrock of hatred. That moment between Pienaar and his team, once lived only in the memories of those who were there, now lives for all of us through the inspired acting of Damon, under the inspiration of director Clint Eastwood and screenplay writer Anthony Peckham. Make no mistake, building unity and peace out of a rubble pile of enmity is no easy job. [In fact, it is a job for which America could now use some humanity and inspiration and an effort to accomplish on our own soil.]
Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela has one of the best moments of his prestigious career in Invictus. Freeman has always had the power to captivate and communicate with only a look, a facial expression, and wise directors have taken advantage of that skill, for instance, as in Driving Miss Daisy and Chain Reaction. Once again in Invictus, the power of Freeman’s expression communicates the truth of the film and of Mandela’s essence. Of all such shinning moments in Freeman’s portrayal of Mandela, one scene stands out. It is out of doors with the wind blowing over him. Mandela’s recitation of the poem “Invictus” echoes through the wind, “I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul /… / It matters not… / How charged with punishment the scroll, / I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul.”
Invictus tells a true story, a story that is fraught with emotional power for anyone who has ever lived in South Africa, visited there, read about Nelson Mandela, or read about South Africa. For those who have kept their distance from South Africa for whatever reason, Invictus is a grand introduction to the sorrows of the country and to Nelson Mandela, the hero of the country. Mandela, Pienaar and Invictus are like a golden sunrise over the Franschhoek Mountains, with morning mist hovering between the valleys and crowning the peaks.
Invictus is rated PG-13, and is a movie that maturing and mature minds will want to see and will do well to see. Once on DVD, Invictus will have a place of honor in every thinking person’s collection.
Clint Eastwood – Director
Anthony Peckham – Screenplay Writer
John Carlin – Book Author
Morgan Freeman – Nelson Mandela
Matt Damon – Francois Pienaar
This film was sviewed at the Reviewer's own expense.