Thu, Jan 07, 2010

: Invictus

Director: Clint Eastwood

For weeks I’ve been trying to decide if I should see this film. A part of me was interested: it’s set in Africa and the historical aspects sounded intriguing. But it’s also a sports film about rugby, which didn’t interest me much, and the whole “uniting the country through sport” aspect sounded trite and predictable. While the reviews were positive, I didn’t read anything that inspired me to go see the film. But today was the last day the film was showing at my local theatre, so I forced myself to go. Am I glad I did! It is an amazing film. Yes, like most sports films it is predictable. But that doesn’t matter because that’s only a small part of the movie. The first remarkable thing I found was not explained in the trailer and should have been. It’s shown in the first few seconds of the film: rich white boys playing rugby on grass on one side of a road with the camera panning to the other side to see poor black kids playing soccer in the dirt. That is clearly the divide in the country. The whites play rugby, the blacks soccer. Thus “uniting the country” through sport is not the trivial task it seems. It is utterly remarkable, an astonishing achievement.

Thus the first two-thirds of the film is all about the politics of Nelson Mandela being released from prison, being elected president of the country, and his unusual ways of governing that transform and unite the country. He early on spots the importance of sport: for the whites, rugby is pride in their country. For the blacks, rugby represents everything they hate about white oppression. Their instinct, upon gaining power, is to repress it and forbid it, but Mandela uses his considerable charm and persuades the blacks to support their country. The result is the whites coming to respect him, while the blacks learn to grudgingly support the whites and even love the sport of rugby. The final third of the film is the actual rugby tournament which is shot as a traditional sports film: the South African team is painted as the lowly underdog which must somehow defeat the undefeatable. We have slow-motion rugby scrums and tackles, dramatic field goals, and whatever else happens in rugby. (The rules are not explained and could have been clarified but you get the gist of what’s going on.) While this portion of the film is definitely the weakest of the story (especially if you’re not a rugby fan), the drama is heightened because the film has built the fate of an entire country upon the results of the matches, and I found myself enthralled. What makes this film work so well is Eastwood’s brilliant direction where he brings us wonderful human moments. The scene with the white and black presidential bodyguards who initially disliked each other, playing rugby on the grass during a break, was wonderful. The scene where the rugby captain brings home tickets to the big match to his family, was so precious because he brought an extra ticket for the family’s black maid, and her surprised and grateful smile that she should be included in this historic moment makes you want to stand up and cheer. Best of all is the way Eastwood intercuts scenes of the critical rugby matches with human moments. One of my favorites is a terrific sequence, probably only thirty seconds long in total, but shown in eight-second increments and spread over five minutes of rugby footage. There’s no dialogue, but we totally see what’s happening. There’s a parked taxi with a white driver and a white friend listening to the match on the radio. A small black boy nearby with wash rags is hanging out, his head tilted to hear the game. He inches closer and his longing to hear better is clear. In the first scene, one of the white guys scolds the boy rudely as though he’s an undesirable insect and sends him away. In the next cut, he’s closer, and as the rugby match is in a dramatic moment, the white guys are too excited to pay attention to the boy. Then the boy’s on the bumper of the taxi, his face alight with joy at the game. In the next scene, he’s cheering and dancing with the men, all animosity forgotten. It’s beautiful, the entire movie told in a few seconds.

Go see this movie.

Topic: [/movie]