Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ticket Stubs: Invictus

In today’s cynical society “inspiration” has become a curse word. Too many movies try so desperately to lay on the schmaltz, that the viewer becomes annoyed instead of inspired. So how do you do it right? That is the premise at the heart of Invictus. During the early 1990s, Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa shortly after the end of apartheid. Needless to say, the country was very divided. In an unconventional technique, Mandela turned to the country’s rugby team.

Casting Morgan Freeman as Mandela may be the most obvious casting in the history of time, but that is primarily because brilliance seemed guaranteed. That assumption turned out to be more than accurate. One of the major reasons why the inspiration is successful is because Mandela is perceived as a human being, not a saint. His actions towards rugby are always in question by his confidants and there are constant glimpses at his imperfect personal life, which includes his poor physical health and depressing family situation. Pure inspiration comes from those who are relatable and genuine. When Mandela gives a speech in Invictus, it is powerful because Freeman shows how much Mandela wants and needs these things to happen.

In order to create unity, Mandela befriends Francois Pienaar, the captain of the South African Springbok rugby team. They look to each other for ways to lead their people and in turn they inspire themselves to become greater leaders and men. Matt Damon plays Pienaar and once again gives a fantastically subtle and heartfelt performance. I doubt it will receive its proper praise, but Damon constantly turns in these excellent feats that should label him as one of our greatest actors working today. (Freeman you would be up there, but you did take part in Wanted. Yikes.)

Now I feel I should devote a paragraph to the third man associated with this film: Mr. Clint Eastwood. Now people often associate him as the epitome of the gender and a solid actor, but I think his real skills have been shown this decade as a director. He’s been directing forgettable spaghetti westerns since the seventies, but lately he crafted such great movies such as Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and Letters from Iwo Jima. With Invictus, he shows his patience by taking the time to subtly generate necessary tension. Also his powerful use of the camera is in full display during the rugby scenes. No, I don’t fully understand the game of rugby, but Eastwood creates an environment that is exciting and terrifying. There is no need to explain the minute rules because in every frame the stakes and motivations are clearly defined.

These scenes and the rest of the movie completely work because this movie achieves its goal. Yes, I admit it! I was inspired. I haven’t seen a movie that completely earns moments of triumph since last year’s Slumdog Millionaire. Nothing is hokey or corny, only powerful.

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