Clint Eastwood has been many things through his decades-long career — action icon, composer, director, politician and many times an Oscar-winner.
What he’s never been is boring. That is, at least until Invictus. Without looking it up, I’m guessing the title is Latin for “drudgery.”
A grinding slog disguised as a race-bridging sports film, the movie unspools with all the forward momentum of your Uncle Henry’s rambling war stories. You know it’s important and all so you stand by politely, nodding and smiling as your eyes glaze over and you allow your mind to drift to something more stimulating, such as that PBS special on prairie dogs you saw the other night.
The setting is mid-1990s South Africa, after Apartheid has fallen and Nelson Mandela, played regally by Morgan Freeman, has been elected president. As an act of unity to bridge the gap between jubilant blacks and put-out whites, he throws his support behind the nation’s rugby team as the World Cup approaches.
It’s indeed heartwarming to watch a racially mixed crowd band together to root their team on to glory, signifying the colorblind magic of sports, but that stuff comes at the very end. The bulk of the film is a dry, governmental procedural, with scene after scene of Mandela spouting aphorisms and putting out fires. Matt Damon plays one of the team’s stars, a key figure in solidifying Mandela’s message.
It’s a fine story, but one that could have been told in a 2-minute segment on 60 Minutes rather than a 2-hours-plus movie. Freeman is probably worthy of an Oscar nomination for the way he disappears into his role, but his movie is such a bore you’d just wish it would disappear.
Starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Written by Anthony Peckham and John Carlin, based on Carlin’s book. Directed by Clint Eastwood. 134 minutes. Rated PG-13.
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