Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, 134 minutes
Stirring "Invictus" a true, old-fashioned story
"Invictus" is an uplifting but old-fashioned factual sports-movie that's more inspiring by the fact that it actually happened. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, it's a little too earnest for its own good in places, but the inspiring tale is well-acted and a nice change of pace for Eastwood, who normally directs heavy crime-related dramas.
"Invictus" tells how Nelson Mandela (Freeman) joined forces with the captain of South Africa's rugby team Francois Pienaar (Damon) 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 rugby team as they make their historic run to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship match.
Eastwood's affecting, soul-searching drama "Invictus" attempts to rally the troops and in many succeeds, aided by strong performances from Freeman as Mandela and Damon as the rugby captain who become allies during a crucial time in South Africa's history. Fortunately, Eastwood's direction and the script by Anthony Peckham (who also penned the upcoming version of "Sherlock Holmes"), have a poignancy that keeps the film moving and clear of too much heavy-handedness. The film starts out too slow as it focuses on Mandela's rebuilding of South Africa, and picks up through an engaging last act during the big stadium game.
Freeman is inspired casting as Mandela, casting the perfect amount of stoicness for the role, while Damon actually has the more subtle, complex role of the captain who's propelled to change by the President. Eastwood could've tightened up certain areas of the film to make it flow easier, and some of the music, jazz-flavored and mixed with some African beats and harmonies (handled by one of Eastwood's own sons, Kyle, while his other son Scott has a featured role in the film as one of the soccer players), is a pleasant but odd choice for the film.
The title "Invictus" comes from British poet William Henley poem of the same name, and means "unconquered" or "invincible" in Latin and a portion of which is quoted in the film: "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." Inspiring and appealing enough to make you want to actually learn more about the sport of rugby, a weird, very rough but often fascinating sport to watch (one that most American audiences won't know much about) but one that's highly popular overseas.
Still, even with all the earnestness, Eastwood's lighter touches here make "Invictus" a solid, warm choice with some old-fashioned holiday cheer, and it's one of his more accessible, least heavy films in years.