Who's In It: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
The Basics: It's 1994 and, while Apartheid is over, the races in South Africa are not exactly living peacefully together. Newly elected President Nelson Mandela (Freeman), in an effort to unite the population on a cultural level, intervenes in the dismantling of the national rugby team. As the Springboks, the team's name and uniform colors represent the earlier regime, causing black sports fans to root for anyone playing against them. But Mandela steps in, allows the team to keep their old identity while reaching out to black citizens with a heavy-duty PR campaign and assigns team captain Matt Damon (blond hair dye amplified by the big glass of milk he's drinking in his first scene) the arduous task of whipping the always losing team into World Cup shape. Like The Bad News Bears but with much higher stakes.
What's The Deal: Compassion, generosity, forgiveness and reconciliation are the kind of qualities most easy to mock in big phony Hollywood movies about inspiring true-life people and their inspiring true-life activities. But that's because Clint Eastwood doesn't direct every movie that gets made. He refuses to lay it on thick when it's just as easy to present the facts as they happened. In his intelligent hands, the message of rewarding brutality with decency doesn't seem silly, Morgan Freeman--who's more or less cornered the market on sounding like he's delivering wisdom tablets from Mt. Ararat-- keeps Nelson Mandela human, and Matt Damon's sports hero flies closer to the ground than a more obvious movie would have demanded. And if you've never cared about rugby you'll leave at least knowing what the word "scrum" means.
How Much Speechifying You'll Have To Endure: Surprisingly little. And when it happens it's mostly Morgan Freeman laying down Martin Luther King-isms about how forgiving your enemies frees you and the power inherent in giving others goodness even if you've been denied it yourself. Which means that it all sounds like the least annoying church service ever instead of the New Age babble of a screenwriter who just read The Secret. If anything, most of the time it seems like sports are all the man has on his mind, to the point where other characters are shaking their heads like, "What's with this guy's boner for rugby?"
1. Freeman's extensive collection of Cosby sweaters and Versace-like blouses all buttoned up to the neck are like really cool sore thumbs in almost every scene, the worldwide political legacy of Heathcliff Huxtable.
2. The sparing use of Ladysmith Black Mambazo-ish hymns.
3. The inclusion of actual sports sequences in a movie that's more about human moral progress than sports, something The Blind Side forgot to do.
Featuring The Worst Movie Song Ever Recorded: It's called "Colorblind." It was written for the movie. You hear it once during the film and then again over the closing credits. Someone's dying to sing this on stage on Oscar night, you just know. But the lyrics about how "it's not just a game" and "[rising] up till the end and [standing] up for my friends" are ear-killing enough to make you hope civil war breaks out again on screen.