Who’s In It: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Adjoa Andoh
The Basics: In the spring of 1994, South African president Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) takes office amidst uneasy tensions, apartheid still a fresh memory. And despite his best efforts to lead by example, he’s still got a country divided along racial lines. So what’s a Zen-like septuagenarian political leader with a huge target painted on his back and a country with retribution on its mind to do? The answer: turn on the rugby match! As his constituents watch in disbelief, Mandela embraces the mostly-Afrikaaner national Springboks team and joins forces with its doubtful captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to unite the country behind the squad on its way to the 1995 World Cup.
What’s The Deal: Clint Eastwood is an Oscar-caliber director. And Invictus is an Oscar-hopeful inspirational sports drama. But it’s not Clint’s best work, and it ain’t subtle. He lays on the “true story” gravitas like a jackhammer, drilling home his message again and again: Nelson Mandela is a great man, healing begins with forgiveness, and the power of sport can unite any enemies as long as they’re cheering for the same side. It’s too bad, because the story behind the film really is quite moving if you can withstand the numerous faux-emotional slow-motion shots and really, really cheesy ethnic fusion soundtrack. (On the plus side, Matt Damon’s accent is pretty good, and he fills out a pair of rugby shorts very nicely.)
Morgan, Meet Nelson: Freeman, who bears a striking resemblance to Mandela, has been passionate about the man’s life for years (and as executive producer, was the one who optioned John Carlin’s book, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation) so it’s no wonder his Mandela is so strong. From his gait to his patient way of speaking, Freeman turns in less an impersonation than an embodiment of the man – which is good, because Morgan Freeman never stops looking like Morgan Freeman.
Rugby: Too Hard To Explain, But Fun To Watch: Americans don’t really know the game of rugby, and Eastwood doesn’t waste time attempting to explain it. So while you might be left wondering why the big men are huddling together and grunting (it’s called a scrum) or why they don’t wear protective gear (pads are for sissies and football players), it won’t matter much.
Let Me Tell You About The Worst Original Song Of The Year: It’s called “Colorblind,” it sounds like the kind of singer-songwriter crap you hear in Starbucks, and it plays inexplicably as Mandela touches down in a helicopter to greet the Springboks team as they practice before a game. Yes, it’s sung by a South African band – a South African boy band, that is, called Overtone. Sample lyrics: “It’s not just a game, you can’t throw me away…I’ve won and I’ve lost but I’m fine…I’m colorblind.”