With an impressive number of accolades awarded for his directing abilities, Clint Eastwood should have been the ideal choice to direct the true story of Nelson Mandela’s attempts to reunite a still-fractured South Africa in the wake of the apartheid, through a South Africa Rugby World Cup victory. Eastwood has shown he is more than adept at directing large action set-pieces, and yet despite a truly inspiring story, the film fails to really engage its audience, on anything other than a relatively superficial level.
The film’s narrative opens with Mandela’s release on the 11th February 1990, and quickly skips forward to his election as President of South Africa in 1994. In the early days of his presidency, recognising the need to create cohesion, Mandela (Morgan Freeman) turns to the South African Rugby Team, ‘The Springboks’: previously a symbol of the apartheid. Mandela seeks to turn The Springboks, captained by Francois Pienaar (played by a well-cast Matt Damon) into a symbol of national pride in the ‘new’ South Africa.
This should make for an entirely-award worthy film, and it is notable that it is the the performances that have garnered Oscar recognition (Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon specifically), rather than the film itself. The film lacks pace, and at over two hours long feels far too long to sustain interest; Eastwood takes almost an hour to set up the events of the film spending far too long filming exposition. This exposition is used to demonstrate to the audience Mandela’s character, which is surely entirely unnecessary considering the recent nature of the events, as well as the reputation of Mandela himself. Thus the audience is shown endless scenes in which Mandela personally greets and recognises each individual, which, whilst appealing at the films inception, in turn allows Eastwood to quickly fall into lazily using this as a device to convey to the audience Mandela’s personality.
The film and the rugby scenes in particular are undoubtedly shot well, but Eastwood fails to create any sense of narrative tension: perhaps due to the recent nature of the events, meaning that its ending is already known to much of its audience. And yet there is still something distinctly lacking in Eastwood’s film. Despite pitch-perfect performances from both Freeman and Damon, along with the supporting cast, Invictus is ultimately a far too saccharine approach to such an important event.