Sport on Film: Clint doesn't make our day as another movie fails to move

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Just as the Six Nations comes kicking and screaming into our cinemas in glorious 3-D, Matt Damon and Invictus have managed to make rugby look very two-dimensional again.

Damon plays the South African captain Francois Pienaar to Morgan Freeman's Nelson Mandela in a film about the 1995 World Cup final which is released to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Mandela's release from prison.

With his deadpan face, brilliantly lampooned in 'Team America: World Police', you might think Damon is ideally suited to play a South African rugby player, his featureless expression masking an equally redundant brain.

But what this equally slow film could do with is Damon in Jason Bourne mode, jumping through the line-out while peppering the New Zealand back line with a machine gun. They would make decent baddies, all dressed in black, and Jonah Lomu even sounds like a villain with designs on world domination. In fact, let's face it, Clint Eastwood would have made a far better Pienaar with his craggy features and brooding menace.

Damon cannot even run properly. He bounces along like a little girl pretending to be a bunny rabbit. And his supposedly stirring team talks would scarcely be heard above the heavy breathing of his fellow forwards. A flanker he isn't. Something similar-sounding, maybe.

Authenticity has largely been discarded in Hollywood's greater scheme of things. Freeman is excellent as Mandela, but would he really have spent his time in front of a flipchart, poring over the permutations of the group stages? Or would the future of his country have weighed more heavily on his mind?

What the film highlights is the cute wisdom of Mandela in pacifying the deposed Afrikaans rulers by allowing their beloved Springboks to keep their name and their green-and-gold colours. An emblem of apartheid was thus transformed into a force for unity. Damon correctly echoes Pienaar after Mandela has handed him the Webb Ellis Cup: "We didn't have 60,000 fans behind us. We had 43 million South Africans."

But the sporting content is klunky. The scenes of the players conducting coaching clinics in the townships seem to be included as a way of teaching an American audience the rudiments of rugby. And as usual the action is a real let-down. Why is it so hard for the silver screen to show the thrills and spills of sport? After all, it is supposed to be able to make anything exciting – that's its job – but it simply cannot pull it off with sport, which is exciting for its own sake and no one else's.

How New Zealand would love to make a movie like this after failing to win any of the last five World Cups. Peter Jackson, director of 'The Lord of the Rings', could oblige but first the All Blacks need to find a few more orcs like Lomu.