Invictus (12A)

1.00

These Boks have no spring

Sometimes, even cheering the right team isn't enough. Nobody of moderate sanity would deny that the story of Nelson Mandela's uniting a bitterly divided nation through his support of the South African rugby team at the 1995 World Cup is, in the word beloved of Hollywood film-makers, inspirational. And so what if Clint Eastwood has made a film for an audience that knows practically nothing about rugby? Its star, Morgan Freeman, has admitted that he doesn't really get the sport himself, so let's cut Invictus some slack on that score. Where the film does drop the ball is in its absolute refusal to portray Mandela as anything other than a modern secular saint. However much you admire the man himself, when there's nothing but sunlight behind him your eyes begin to hurt.

Eastwood is doing a bit of everything here. He's making a movie about sport, a movie about politics, a movie about race and a movie about a man who took a stand at the intersection of all three. It is sensational material, adapted by Anthony Peckham from the book Playing the Enemy by John Carlin, a former Independent journalist who covered Mandela's release from prison and his subsequent inauguration as President. In a short preamble from 1990, Mandela's motorcade drives him to liberty along a road that symbolises the country's divide. On one side, a group of shoeless black kids playing football in a dirt field roar on their hero; on the other, a sportsmaster supervising a group of white public school boys on a private rugby field says, in disgust, "Remember today, boys – when this country went to the dogs."

It is these deep scars that Mandela (Morgan Freeman) first sets about healing, first in his own office, where he insists upon allocating bodyguard duties to white Special Branch men as well as his old ANC comrades, and then at the sports ministry, where he revokes a plan to strip the Springboks rugby team – another old symbol of apartheid – of their nickname and their green-and-gold colours. "Reconciliation starts here," he argues, and somehow he gets his way. Cannily intuiting that South Africa's hosting of the rugby World Cup might be the glue to bond his fractured nation, he arranges a meeting with the Springboks' captain, François Pienaar (Matt Damon), and encourages him to take destiny by the scruff of the neck and win the trophy for his countrymen. "We need inspiration... we must all exceed our expectations," he tells him, and Pienaar duly takes on board the responsibility of making it happen.

Perhaps that is exactly how it happened. But the problem is not one of factual accuracy; it is one of dramatic credibility, stymied all the way through by the remorseless sanctification of its subject. Morgan Freeman, who's long been Hollywood's go-to guy for "hard-won integrity", does the voice, the wave, the presidential charisma, but he's swaddled in so much virtue and moral armour that you can barely see a human being underneath. It is not enough that he is blessed with superhuman courtesy, asking everyone from the maid to the bodyguard how their families are, and paying little compliments to a secretary on her new hairdo. He must also be the unimpeachable dispenser of justice and wisdom, the man who never raises his voice or ticks off an underling or shows even the smallest hint of irritation. The guy was running a country, for heaven's sake – he'd be allowed to lose his temper now and then.

Again, this might all be true of Mandela, but portraying it in a film doesn't necessarily promote enjoyment. I wonder if Eastwood was attracted to the idea of a political hero at a time when such figures have been conspicuously absent in his own country. It is hard to imagine a US President publicly declaring that his own salary is "too high" and donating a third of it to charity, as Mandela does here. It's hard to imagine any politician at all doing such a thing. What Invictus won't do is pay Mandela the honour of suspicion. At one point, a bodyguard incautiously asks after his family, and Mandela, separated from Winnie by now, looks pained. Then he recovers himself to say, "My family is 24 million people," a line which perhaps might not have played so well in front of his actual family. The bodyguard is then privately rebuked by his superior, who says of their boss: "He's not a saint, he's a man, with a man's problems." But the whole tenor of the movie contradicts that judgment. Matt Damon, blameless and bland, plays a kind of shadow apostle to his country's saviour, and takes his team-mates on a visit to the famous cell on Robben Island where Mandela was confined for 26 years. It's a moving moment, but the film as usual over-eggs it with a shot of Pienaar watching Mandela's ghost breaking rocks in the prison yard.

The last reel, which covers the Boks' triumphant progress to the final, is a dead loss: anyone who knows rugby will groan at the falseness of the game's reconstruction, and anyone who doesn't – eg all of America – will puzzle over a sport that seems to be a sweaty straining of muscle and sinew interrupted by fist-fights. The cutaways to the stadium crowd going nuts, and then to the bars and living-rooms of ordinary South Africans watching on TV, might be the most inert and boring Eastwood has ever filmed. They also remind you that sport is its own drama, with its own tempo and intricacy, and that what captured the national imagination at the time isn't easily duplicated within the cold climate of celluloid. You should be punching the air as South Africa win and Mandela is vindicated, but after your arm's been twisted for two hours and more it may not be up to the job.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us