Review by Christopher Coleman
With the coming of December, award season is "for your consideration" season is upon us and that has come to mean some sort of entry from director Clint Eastwood. 2009's apparent submission from prolific director/producer is INVICTUS. The evocative title of Eastwood's latest project comes from a poetic work of William Ernest Henley who, penned his powerful and moving words in the wake of the loss of his foot due to tuberculosis back in 1875. The word is Latin for "unconquered."
INVICTUS stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, newly elected president of the Republic of South Africa and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, captain of South Africa's national rugby team. It is Henley's poem, that serves as a key source of strength for both men in their respective pursuits: one to win a world cup, the other to utilize that win to unite his historically fragmented nation. INVICTUS sets before us the potent combination of two of Hollywood's finest actors, one of its most celebrated directors, and a story that focuses on one of recent history's most memorable times; making it a virtual shoe-in for a gaggle of nominations and awards...or is it?
As Mandela has to deal with racial tensions among his own staff, Pienaar must deal with the task of motivating his team to, at the request of Mandela, win the seemingly unwinnable - the 1995 World Cup, hosted in South Africa. The general story arc is laid out clearly enough but the actual execution is as flat as the pitch of a rugby field. Morgan Freeman's portrayal of Mandela may garner him a few nominations, but INVICTUS doesn't offer enough personal exploration of neither Mandela or Pienaar to cause the audience to emotionally invest in them. Eastwood wouldn't have been the first to utilize the musical score to inject some much needed life into a film that is otherwise dull, but he fails to do this. Despite a loose-handful of engaging moments from composers Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens, the numerous vocal pieces included do little to help in this regard...and, in fact, hurt the film further.