Invictus Captures South Africa’s Defining Moment

“I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.”

So ends the captivating, powerful movie Invictus by Clint Eastwood, inspired by the poem by William Ernest Henley, the namesake of the movie.

Invictus tells the true story of Nelson Mandela’s presidency after his 27 year imprisonment. It documents his participation in the South African rugby team’s win of the 1995 World Cup.

But the film goes deeper than that.

It opens to a segregated South African city. A single road separates a prominently white high school rugby team practice and a soccer game played by underprivileged black kids in their ghetto.

A procession of cars drives down the road. All the black kids cheer, chanting “Madiba,” (their nickname for Mandela) and clinging to the gate separating their dirt field and the road.

The white rugby team is less enthusiastic. They confusedly watch the procession as their coach glares at the person inside the car.

This scene marks the day that Nelson Mandela was released from prison, immediately attaining the presidency– a huge upset to the prominently white government while he was in prison.

It immediately establishes the theme of the movie: racism. Precisely, Nelson Mandela’s fight against it using South Africa’s failing rugby team.

The movie stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, captain of the Springboks (South Africa’s) rugby team.

There is subtle yet undeniable chemistry between Freeman and Damon.  I was expecting this to be just another Morgan Freeman movie in which he plays the inspirational older black gentleman, such as in Bruce Almighty or The Bucket List, and this worried me. I didn’t want to see Morgan Freeman; I wanted to see Nelson Mandela, a hard task to achieve. But Freeman completely immerses himself into the role, incorporating the South African dialect tendencies that Nelson Mandela has. And we believe it. Freeman nails every aspect of Mandela’s life.

Damon was given an easier role to portray. His main task was to beef up for his role of Francois, but portraying the solid rugby team captain was an easier feat. And he did it well. I believed in his incredible respect for Mandela, I was inspired to try my hardest at everything during his pregame and post game speeches. The athletic and inspirational aspects of his character were to a Tee, but I think his part was easier to portray because those were really the only aspects we saw. As opposed to Freeman’s role, in which we had to believe every aspect of his life.

The screenplay was based off of the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin. It was adapted to screenplay by Anthony Peckham, and that story, for me, is what made this movie so good. Its good, solid plot is what carries the movie through its 134-minute running time. The first half of the movie focuses mostly on Mandela getting back on his feet after his years in prison, but the director cleverly inserted several rough and tough rugby scenes to “liven things up”, and to give us a quick insight to the finale. The second half is purely motivational. It brought back memories of what good movies are meant to do: inspire.

Of course, every movie needs good acting and a solid plot, but the actual movie making was remarkable too. Clint Eastwood did a brilliant job capturing the essence of South Africa during the 1990’s, portraying the poverty, segregation and unifying love for a sport in a raw and believable way. He paid incredible attention to the smallest details making Invictus the perfect fusion of an inspiring sports movie and the biography of an amazing man trying to unite his country.

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