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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 gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
-William Ernest Henley-
On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years of incarceration. The above poem, Invictus, fueled his strength while imprisoned and helped provide him the courage to lead South Africa after his release.
“Invictus,” on the surface, is the story of an underdog rugby team that dared to turn their program around and go for the World Cup with the support of Nelson Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman. Take the film a level deeper, and it’s about how Mandela tried to take a color-divided nation and make it colorblind; no easy task since South Africans (black South Africans for purposes of this review) outnumbered Afrikaners (white South Africans of Dutch descent for purposes of this review) several times over, and Afrikaners ruled the country and oppressed the South Africans prior to Mandela’s release and presidency.
Freeman plays an understanding, forgiving Mandela, who’s trying to break the color barrier and bring his country together through rugby – an all Afrikaner team with one South African, against his staff’s recommendation. His assistant/aid warned he risked the presidency by embracing the traditionally Afrikaner sport. He said the day he is afraid of risking his presidency is the day he no longer deserves the power, effectively solidifying his decision to continue down the path of bonding through sport.
Francois Pienaar, captain of South Africa’s Springbok rugby team and played by Matt Damon, finds courage and strength to lead his team through Mandela’s personal appearances and appreciation, as well as the President’s experience in prison.
Damon, a very capable actor, didn’t have much room in this role to act with words. His acting is seen through his actions on and off the field and his facial expressions and body language as he leads his team to victory after victory. It’s a change of pace from Damon’s usual wordy roles (“The Informant,” “Oceans 11, 12, 13”) and his traditional action films (The “Bourne” series). Nonetheless, Damon effectively portrays silent but strong leadership; not to mention the required change in his physical appearance to accurately represent a professional rugby player.
Freeman earns compassion not only from the on-screen characters, but from the audience, as a leader seeking peace in his country. His portrayal is strong, giving hope and bringing smiles to the audience and eventually even his on-screen security detail team made up of both Afrikaners and South Africans, who are at odds for most of the film.
A note must also be said about the sound mixing and editing. With each rugby match, one could hear the detail of the game – bones crunching against each other, shoes digging into the field, the grunts of powerful men unleashing all their strength against one another. One almost feels as if they are in the middle of the match with the players.
The film is well-paced with a solid, well-researched plot.
Word of advice – if you are not familiar with Mandela’s history, read up on it before seeing the film to truly reap the glory of this beautiful story of two underdogs: The Springbok and Nelson Mandela.
8 1/2 out of 10 sandwiches
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