Almost all sports movies use their respective sport as a type of metaphor for the life experiences the lead character is going through. Not every movie succeeds at this, of course, but the idea of using sport to represent life is nothing new. The refreshing thing about INVICTUS is that it didn’t use rugby as a metaphor for any greater message, but rather it showed how a particular sporting event (rugby World Cup) played at a specific time (post-apartheid) in a particular place (South Africa) was a catalyst to unite a country that was wrought with bitter feelings on both ends. Throw in a couple of wonderful performances from Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, and a great directorial effort from Clint Eastwood and you have yourself a powerful sports film.
Matt Damon is Francois Pienaar, the captain of the nearly all-white South African rugby team that has grown accustomed to losing matches. Morgan Freeman is Nelson Mandela, the newly elected leader of South Africa that is faced with the unenviable task of uniting a nation of blacks and whites that still have fear, hatred and doubts about the other race. While trying to bring peace to his devastated country, Mandela takes an interest in the rugby team and puts hopes in them to help unite his country. He tasks Francois with the lofty task of winning the World Cup and uniting the blacks and whites in a common interest; rugby.
I’ve heard the complaint that American audiences are lost because most Americans don’t understand the sport of rugby. I don’t know the rules of rugby, but it didn’t take away from the point of the film. Rugby is just a catalyst for the rest of the film. We understand the basics of all sports and Eastwood does a fine job of keeping it simple for us. The treasure in the film is watching the transformation of people and their prejudices as the rugby team starts winning. Americans see this in cities when their sports team starts doing well. If you were in a bar in New Orleans when they won the Super Bowl, then you saw people that may normally hate each other hugging in the streets. Sport is the common unifier of people and a team’s success can break down a lot of barriers. Nelson Mandela knew this and that’s one of the reasons he was so intent on supporting the national rugby team. The South African rugby team had a very unique opportunity to unite a country amidst turmoil and the results of their victories were felt by everyone in the country.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you have two great actors carrying the two intertwining storylines. Freeman is great as Mandela, conveying the message of peace with every line and action. Damon’s interpretation of Pienaar was also wonderful as he had to carry the burden of a country with the pride of an athlete. It was great watching them teach each other various lessons and observing them grow, all with the watchful camera of the great Clint Eastwood. It’s rare that a sports movie successfully conveys a greater message, but INVICTUS managed to do just that.
Video: I’ve noticed that most of Clint Eastwood’s films seem to have a bit of a haziness to them as the director shies away from the crystal clear images that most directors go for. It adds to his style and this Blu-ray manages to stay true to the source material and the result is a wonderful transfer.
Audio: The DTS-HD track is crystal clear with all channels being used effectively. Although it didn’t tear the roof off, it was extremely smooth and clear, creating a great listening experience.
Vision, Courage and Honor: Every Blu-ray should have a picture-in-picture commentary track. Of all the benefits of Blu-ray, the PiP’s are one of the best. This one is no different as we get to watch several interviews with the legendary director that is enjoyable and informative. Anyone that enjoyed this film owes it to themselves to watch this.
The Eastwood Factor (21:52): This felt oddly familiar and extremely similar to one of the features found on GRAN-TORINO. But it’s a short overview of Eastwood’s life and career, which is nice for those that haven’t seen it before.
Damon Plays Rugby (6:51): Obviously, getting a Hollywood star into the toughest sport around is going to bring its own featurette. This is pretty much what it says it is and is a little more light-hearted compared to the other features.
Mandela Meets Morgan (28:03): This one actually isn’t what you think it is. This is more of a making-of featurette where everyone chimes in with how great the other cast members are and how much they love the story. It’s better than most making-of featurettes, but nothing earth shattering.
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