Unreal Movie Review: Invictus


Invictus is the first in a forthcoming crop of Oscar hopefuls to be released this month, and if you don’t believe me, it’s by Clint Eastwood, stars Morgan Freeman and is about millions of people overcoming racism. Throw in Meryl Streep and you might as well just cancel the whole awards show.

But just because pieces of a film are “Oscar caliber” does that mean that’s true for the film as a whole? I don’t believe that’s the case here.

Invictus tells the story of a recently freed Nelson Mandela taking office in his home country of South Africa after the plague of apartheid has torn his country apart. He discovers that amidst these troubling times, the sport of rugby appears to be the way to best unite his white and black citizens, and he contacts the team’s captain, Matt Damon, to help him create a club the entire country can get behind. This culminates in the very true story of South Africa’s unlikely rise to become rugby world cup champions, and there’s enough inspiration to last us all until next Oscar season.


It’s not a spoiler if it’s history.

But through all this, I maintain that just because the story is wonderful, that doesn’t automatically give the film based around it a free pass.

Invictus is bloated, poorly structured and seldom well-written. However, most of this is negated by stellar performances from both Freeman and Damon. It’s absolutely true that Morgan Freeman was born to play Nelson Mandela, and even though he sounds like a human version of Yoda who speaks in correctly formatted sentences, his performance is powerful as the iconic president. If there’s a problem with the character, it’s just that Eastwood makes him seem almost too perfect, as everything he says and does is always the “right” answer, and a few brief moments touching on his family strife don’t really humanize him enough.


Why do even the good African leaders dress like they’re going to kill my family?

Damon on the other hand isn’t required to do a whole lot here, but when he is onscreen, he masters his accent dutifully (though it’s hard for most people to judge what a “correct” South African accent sounds like) and he gives the appropriate amount of motivation to his team without trying to steal the show.

However, as I mentioned, great performances are no excuse for the film’s other failings, and I will place most of the blame on Eastwood for that. The film is nearly half an hour too long, and is padded by a badly written and acted subplot about Mandela’s newly integrated Secret Service detail. It’s meant to show brotherhood and reconciliation and all that, but a million screaming black and white people hugging each other in the final scene accomplishes that just fine. It would have been one thing if there was ever, you know, an actual security threat in the movie, but there are only a few false scares meant to make the characters seem useful.

Another avenue where the film suffers is the rugby itself, and though it’s tough to make a watchable film about a sport few of us understand, there isn’t even two minutes of general explanation as to how the game is played, so therefore all the match scenes have us wondering just what exactly is happening on the field the majority of the time. And when the movie drags the final match out to an exhausting twenty five minutes of men grunting and shoving each other, I literally felt the need to tap out. These sequences make the film feel like this might as well be a movie about how the Mighty Ducks brought down the Berlin wall, only it’s a sport we don’t understand, and, however badass it may be, one that’s not particularly enjoyable to watch, Eastwood should have realized this, and cut down on the game play and put a little more work into the story.


No, I have zero idea what’s happening here.

Morgan Freeman definitely deserves some recognition for his work here, but this film is another example of an Eastwood directing style that I’m really growing to dislike, despite all its critical acclaim. It’s a great story, and it will hold you down and force you to be at least a little bit inspired, but Invictus is far from the film it could have been.

3 out of 5 stars

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  1. Interestingly, the only thing that would make me consider seeing this movie is the fact that Eastwood directed. Funny that he’s the weakest part of Invictus.

    Plus, I usually hate feel-good, idealistic movies.

  2. Gran Torino is next in my Netflix queue, actually. I think it arrives today.

    Did not see Iwo Jimo, LOVED Million Dollar Baby, and of course – also by Eastwood – Unforgiven is incredible.

  3. It’s a bit lame, I’ve got to say, reserving most of your criticism for the fact that you don’t understand the game itself. This is a game that is played around the world, even featuring a World Cup – not unlike Soccer. If you compare this to the more popular sports in the US – they are pretty insular – outside of the States, and close neighbours, awareness for the rules of those games is not very prominent. Previous movies about Basketball, Gridiron, Baseball, Ice Hockey (Mighty Ducks ? ) etc generally ASSUME knowledge of the games themselves – so why shouldn’t this movie do the same thing ? I guarantee you audiences in Britain, South Africa, Australia, France etc etc will not have to have the game EXPLAINED to them for them to be able to appreciate ( or criticise ) the film itself.

  4. @Madison

    See, I hated all three of those, but I loved Mystic River and Unforgiven. He’s super hit or miss for me.


    Yes, you’re right to a certain extent, but perhaps I didn’t make it clear that my biggest problem was the AMOUNT of time he spent showing the final game. It’s almost literally a half an hour. If the end of the Mighty Ducks was half an hour of a relatively mundane hockey game with one exciting moment at the end, I would say the same thing about that. It’s just not edited well at all, it’s almost like he said, “Shit, I need to make this at least two hours for people to take it seriously” which is why the movie feels so bloated.

  5. if there really is 25 minutes of rugby in it that’s not really a big deal considering that’s a fraction of the match and I’m also assuming he’s not just showing a straight 25 minutes but there are things going on (i plan on seeing it this coming friday). its the same thing as mighty ducks actually but instead of showing all of the games it only shows the most important one (from your review i was made to understand he shows just the finals)

    second of all, if he had added a segment that introduced the rules of rugby can you imagine how much the international (who I would honestly say are the ones that are eastwood’s biggest focus group) viewers would feel? as a former rugger (US) i would hate having to watch that and i guarantee anyone that knows the rules would hate being babied and honestly, if you’re going to a game that’s about a rugby team that won the world title… maybe you shouldve looked into the rules a bit or at least not complain about the focus of the movie being the worst part

    granted i may take this all back after i actually see the movie but hey; until then, this is my ignorant opinion.

  6. They really aren’t promoting South Africa as an underdog, are they? That’d be like having a movie about the Chicago Bulls in the early-mid 90’s and portraying them as underdogs. South Africa has always been a dominant nation in Rugby in pre and post apartheid.

    I’ll be renting this one. Though, I’m guessing Eastwood is going to hollywoodize the final game. I actually remember watching the 95 WC Rugby Finals, and it was one of the most boring matches I have ever watched.

  7. REALLY did not enjoy this film. I felt little to no connection with the characters, wasn’t drawn in and on the edge of my seat, and was feeling tired about an hour and a half in.

    The “slow-mo” moments in the final rugby match where the men’s voices made monstrous growling sounds for minutes on end was very cheesy and didn’t thrill me at all.

    The only heartwarming moment where I felt truly connected to the film was when Damon included the housekeeper with a ticket to the big match.

    Overall, it felt mundane and drawn out for far too long. I could not (and will not) sit through it ever again. Funny how other movie-goers got up multiple times for snacks, cell phone calls, bathroom breaks, etc etc something you usually wouldn’t see during a captivating movie where most people stay glued to their seats

  8. I was wondering how the rest of the world felt about this film, as a South African I was wondering if the film would hold up in other countrys, I found it captivating, but I think most of it was because it felt like they were telling a bit of my story, I don;t know Eastwood got so many truely South African feelings and idears in the movie, but walking out of it I did feel like it was a film made for South Africans about their history, which was quite accurate.

    I loved the movie, but I do aggree that Eastwood made some scenes to long. As for the Rugby match in the end, I thought they showed just the right amount of it to bring back the mood that the country was in at the time of the match, and I am not even a Rugby fan.

    Freeman was exeptional as Nelson Mandela and Damon did the South African accent wonderfully.

  9. One inaccuracy in your article it is not true that SA were the “unlikely” winners, they were favourites from the beginning. As a New Zealander I find it amusing that they chose to portray it as though SA were the underdog. One annoyance for me is that there is no mention in the film of the fact that over half the NZ team were suffering from food poisoning at the time of the final. It has been alleged but never proven that a waitress at their hotel was paid off to poison them. I understand why they chose not to include it but I still think its pretty lame that they ignore one of the biggest stories surrounding that game.

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