Invictus Review
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By the age of 79, most men are nicely settled into their retirement. They’re enjoying a well-deserved break from their years of hard work, spending their days fishing…or playing cards with their grandkids…or maybe touring the country in a cozy RV. But not Clint Eastwood. It seems the only trailer that Eastwood’s spending time in these days is the one on the set of his next film. But I’m not complaining—because, even after more than five decades in the biz, he just keeps getting better.

Eastwood’s latest historical drama, Invictus, begins in 1994, as Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) begins his term as the President of South Africa, realizing that his is a nation divided, both racially and economically. Eager to create a “rainbow nation,” Mandela devises an unconventional plan, using South Africa’s struggling rugby team to unite the people.

Led by captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), the Springboks are seen as a lingering symbol of apartheid—one that many South Africans want to see disbanded. But Mandela urges them to reconsider—to encourage reconciliation with the Afrikaners instead of fostering hatred.

If South Africa weren’t hosting the 1995 World Cup, the team probably wouldn’t even qualify. But Mandela wants the team to do more than just play in the World Cup. He wants them to win.

Based on the book, Playing the Enemy, by John Carlin—and taking its title from the poem that inspired Mandela through his years of imprisonment—Invictus is itself a kind of poem. Simple yet truly moving, it’s an inspiring story of unity and reconciliation—and it’s all brought about by something as seemingly insignificant as a sporting event.

From the opening title sequence depicting Mandela’s release and election, Invictus clutches your heart, and it never lets go. But it isn’t an exhaustingly heavy drama. Instead, like last year’s big Oscar winner, Slumdog Millionaire, Invictus allows itself to have a bit of fun. Sometimes, in fact, it’s downright joyful. And the rugby scenes add an uncontainable energy. Though I knew nothing about rugby before I saw the film (and, to be honest, even after seeing it, I still know pretty much nothing about the game or its rules), it’s nevertheless fascinating to watch the ebb and flow of the game.

Still, it’s the film’s simplicity that makes it so powerful. Eastwood doesn’t try to force an all-too-obvious message on his audience. He isn’t manipulative or melodramatic. Instead, he tells his story through the thoughtful subtleties—through the small surprises and the characters’ reactions. In the process, his message comes through loud and clear. But, of course, he couldn’t have pulled it off quite as flawlessly without a brilliant cast.

Freeman shows Mandela’s quiet strength and determination through a restrained and beautifully nuanced performance. He says very little, yet he’s absolutely captivating—and when he does speak, you’ll hang on his every word. And Damon, too, gives an understated yet compelling performance as the rugby captain who helped to pull his team—and his country—together.

Clint Eastwood may be 79 years old—and Morgan Freeman may be 72—but there’s nothing old or stodgy about their brilliant collaboration. Invictus isn’t the same old award season drama—and it’s certainly not the same old sports movie. It’s an exuberant and uplifting film—and a high point in Eastwood’s long and illustrious career.

Blu-ray Review:
The two-disc Blu-ray combo release of this inspiring and uplifting film offers viewers a look behind the scenes—at both the filmmaking process and the true story that inspired it. There are two making-of features. The shorter of the two, Matt Damon Plays Rugby, focuses on Damon and his dedication to the film—from his training and mastery of the game to his bonding with the real Francois Pienaar. The half-hour Mandela Meets Morgan feature covers more ground, discussing everything from the story and its significance to Eastwood’s filming techniques and Morgan Freeman’s meeting with Nelson Mandela. If you’ve got the time, both features are worth watching—especially because they give you the opportunity to hear some of the stories as told by the people who actually experienced them, from the actual players to Mandela’s staff.

Instead of the usual director’s commentary, the disc includes an in-depth picture-in-picture feature. It’s like a mix between a commentary and a making-of feature, using a picture-in-picture window at the bottom of the screen to show more interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Much of the interviews are also included in the making-of features, but it’s an interesting and informative way to watch the film nonetheless.

Also included on the disc is an excerpt from film critic and historian Robert Schickel’s documentary, The Eastwood Factor, which follows the legendary actor/director on a walk around the Warner Bros. lot, reminiscing about his years in film. Though it’s not necessarily a gripping documentary, Eastwood fans will enjoy the walk down memory lane.

The special features on the Invictus Blu-ray provide an extra or two for everyone—whatever their level of interest. If you’ve got plenty of time, at least skim through all of them. But if you’ve got just a few minutes to spare, even the shorter features provide some additional insight into this memorable drama.

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