Poet William Ernest Henley wrote the poem “Invictus” from a hospital bed after his foot was amputated. Invictus is Latin for “unconquered” which gives you some insight into a constant running theme throughout the film.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gait,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Invictus chronicles the plight of South Africa’s switch from a system of apartheid to democracy. Anthony Peckham wrote the screenplay from the John Carlin book “Playing the Enemy”. The story manifests itself in the tale of the national rugby team, the Springboks, and the 1995 World Cup. The rugby team seemed to be behind the time in terms of the political climate, wearing the colors of pre-liberation South Africa, but Nelson Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman, actually fights to keep their culture the same in an attempt to pacify the minority that hurt them for so many years. Mandela proclaims the need for tolerance and generosity when dealing with the white minority of the country, for both social and political reasons.
Matt Damon is Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks which seemed to be a very unpromising team when considering the finals. No one gives them much of a shot, including some of their own countrymen. The country seemed too divided, too consumed with the polemics of race for them to have any chance of surviving even the quarterfinals. But Mandela reaches out to Pienaar and instills in him purpose and duty. Mandela has the Springboks coach rugby clinics across the country which changes how the almost all-white team saw South Africa and how South Africa saw the rugby team.
Morgan Freeman was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his fantastic, elegant performance as Nelson Mandela. He embodies everything that Nelson Mandela is-honest, unpretentious, charitable, and trustworthy. He radiates warmth on screen and can inspire almost anyone.
Matt Damon was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in this film. This work did not seem like much of a stretch for him. It’s physicality he easily met, along with the dialogue. He nonetheless did a good job with it. Damon can be seen this fall in The Adjustment Bureau, alongside Emily Blunt. He is also taking a leading role in a remake of True Grit, directed by the Coen brothers (No Country for Old Men, Miller’s Crossing).
Director Clint Eastwood has a knack for presenting unique stories of truth and fiction alike with simple elegance. He did it with Gran Torino, with Million-Dollar Baby, with Changeling, and he did it again here. A massive box set of his was recently released and includes 35 films. He has just finished directing another film starring Matt Damon called Hereafter. It’s about the effect of death upon a blue-collar American, a French journalist, and a London school-boy. Damon plays a psychic. Next he will be directing a biographical picture about J. Edgar Hoover, with Leonardo DiCaprio having just been confirmed as Hoover.
The score and soundtrack was great, as was the overall feel of the story. However, it seemed to lack that punch that really hit home with the viewer. Apartheid seemed to be little more than a bad dream in the film, not the nightmare it actually was. There were times that the rugby team’s world cup performance showed its impact on the people but at other times, it was missing. In the most basic terms, it was not as dramatic as it seemed. Maybe that is a good thing. The verdict is really for each person to decide.