Clint Eastwood does South Africa: Invictus (2009)

Today’s review of Invictus marks the conclusion of  my mini-series on South African films.

Invictus movie poster

Unfortunately, last week’s film, Tsotsi, was clearly the peak of the series. I was skeptical about Invictus to begin with, as I am not a fan of cliche sports films. Yeah yeah yeah, the team is really bad and struggling at the start of the movie, and every game is touch and go, but of course you know that they are going to win in the end!

However, if you like sports films and you didn’t think that Moneyball, for example, was a complete waste of time and resources, then perhaps you will enjoy Invictus–provided you also like Hollywood melodrama and that undeserved warm tingly feeling that you get after watching this type of pat-yourself-on-the-back-because-goldarnit-humanity-really-is-great-at-the-end-of-the-day kind of film.

So, what did I like about the movie? Well, for one thing, it certainly does have a heavy sense of gravitas. The wide, panning camera angles are well-suited for the swooping shots of the stadium. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t really ever change, such that EVERYTHING in the movie ends up looking EPIC, even the shantytowns. Yes, we get it, Clint Eastwood–a shitty rugby team gets inspired by Nelson Mandela and at the end of the film there’s a big golden trophy and everybody shakes hands and racism is over!!! Because sports.


Ok, tone down the sarcasm, Alina. Matt Damon’s portrayal of rugby captain Francois Pienaar is quite good, but that’s no surprise–he’s a consistently solid actor. Morgan Freeman looks a lot like Nelson Mandela, especially in profile, but his attempt at a South African accent is laughable. The subplot with the white Afrikaner security guards and the black South African security guards is corny and awful. I did think that the movie did a pretty good job of capturing Mandela’s slightly self-deprecating sense of humor, and I also appreciated that Clint Eastwood didn’t gloss over Mandela’s familial troubles–including his fraught separation from his wife of 36 years, Winnie.

That, however, is the extent of my appreciation. Instead  of continuing to whine, I thought I would try to find out how South Africans responded to the 2009 movie. What specifically did they take issue with? Well, just about everything:

  • This movie was an unbelievable let down. As a South African who experienced the new S.A. triumph for a great moment in the world’s eye, I was shocked to see how Eastwood made an effort, not to make an effort…Rubbish…Even though I always thought Freeman would make a great Madiba [Mandela]…He butchered Madiba’s middle name. His accent sucked!” (quoted from here)
  • As a South African die-hard rugby fan – and fan of Madiba of course – I vowed never to see this “Hollywood treatment” of one of my country’s proudest moments ever. Eastwood has no business making a one-dimensional, gushy, sentimental mockery of all I hold dear for his own soap-box purposes. Who the hell does he think he is?? And a rugby movie? For Americans?” (quoted from here)
  • “…this movie is…obviously made – well made, mind you – by people of a different age, place and time who have fused the authentic with something that isn’t quite right. The author is a British journalist who covered South Africa, the screenwriter is a non-rugby loving ex-patriate South African living in Morro Bay, California…the director and the two lead actors are American. As good a job as they did technically, something got lost in the mix. Instead of being too lively, this movie is, if anything, muted – even somber. You’d have to wonder what it would look like if a South African director had made it. What if, say, Gavin Wood (Tsotsi) or an up-and-coming African director had done it, how different would it would be?” (quoted from this excellent review; emphasis added)
  • Of course, we — my family and I — always get frustrated when Americans are cast as South Africans, when we know there are quality South African actors out there (especially in the wake of District 9), and that resentment was still present as I watched Invictus. While much of the supporting cast was comprised of genuine South Africans, seeing the leads go to Americans inevitably smarts a bit, regardless of how good a job they may do. Of course, we also realize the realities of the situation — unless you’re making a movie about alien invasions, it’s unlikely you’re going to do much business at the box office (the brilliant Tsotsi is the perfect example of that, a fantastic film that no one saw).” (quoted from another excellent review)

So, as you can clearly see, there are many, many troubling things about this movie. Just pretend this movie doesn’t exist and go watch Tsotsi instead!

Overall, though, I hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series on South African films — even if there were a couple of duds thrown into the mix! The lovely Shelley from Travel-Stained suggested that I ought to watch some South Korean films as my next project, and I couldn’t agree more! I’ve hardly seen any of them, and that should be rectified. Cheers.

Overall movie grade: C

All the films reviewed: District 9 || A Dry White Season || Cry, the Beloved Country || Red Dust || Tsotsi 


19 thoughts on “Clint Eastwood does South Africa: Invictus (2009)

  1. I saw Invictus quite a few years ago, and all I remember about it is feeling rather disappointed. I’d been expecting much better things because well, Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, and there was just so much MORE they could’ve done with the story…

    But YAY!!! I’m so excited to see which films you pick, and your reviews of them. 😀 Super interested to see your take on the cultural elements in them…

    1. Yeah, I just think that Clint Eastwood is not a very good director… He’s very formulaic; very Hollywood, and not terribly creative. Of course, I make that assertion having seen only a handful of his films, so feel free to contest it! If you *really* want to watch a “sports” movie, then Seabiscuit is ok, I guess. ha!
      Yes, thank you so much for the suggestion to watch South Korean films! I need to start making a list & narrowing it down. I am excited for the horror films, which I’ve heard are downright terrifying, as well as some of the love stories (that hopefully will be better than American rom-coms!).

      1. OMG! I have never even tried to watch a Korean horror film. They are the kind that get into your head…there’s no way I would survive. There are a few English language “Korean” films now – Stoker and Snowpiercer. What else could I suggest? Hmm… Masquerade, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, 3-Iron, Tae-Guk-gi – honestly I haven’t seen most of these, but they’re titles I’ve heard. 🙂 Can’t wait to see what you choose!! 🙂

  2. To me, C is generous. I actually can’t believe I watched it being a cliche sport movie. I guess I had glimmer-of-hope expectations the same as when I watched Moneyball. Cinderella Man, Million Dollar Baby, Moneyball, hmmm… The Wrestler, (50/50 on) The Fighter, and The Miracle are all great newer sports movie. I also “enjoy” Talladega Nights and Varsity Blues.

    1. Ha! Yes, maybe a C is generous. I gave it a C because I have a soft spot for South Africa and because it wasn’t as bad as The Wolf of Wall Street, haha.
      I thought Moneyball was fairly boring, and I haven’t seen Cinderella Man, The Wrestler, or The Miracle, but I did quite enjoy Million Dollar Baby. I do sometimes wonder if I would like the TV series Friday Night Lights.

      1. It is boring. 😉 But talking aport movie-wise, I love the unique quality ans take of Moneyball. It’s not a cliche sport movie. Jonah Hill’s transformation there is awesome unlike the one in TWOWS.

  3. Too late; unfortunately, I saw this movie when it first came out. I honestly barely remembered what happened in the movie because I was bored the whole time. My South African friends were not as bothered by the non-South African actors as they were about the lackluster storyline and production. I hope you do start a South Korean film project and I would love to join along after I read your reviews!

    1. Yes, the storyline was a bit lackluster, wasn’t it? Clint Eastwood tends to be a bit heavy-handed with the emotions/drama, to the extent that it becomes overbearing.
      Yes, I am definitely planning to do a South Korea film series now! Everyone seems to be a fan of the idea 🙂 Plus South Korean horror films are supposed to be *the* best, and I love a good scare every now and then.

  4. The quotes are priceless! I agree about the minimal use of native actors in leading roles but then Hollywood is Hollywood…for more authentic films I have to look beyond Hollywood studios.

    I would LOVE to see a series on S. Korean movies! I am quite interested in the culture but have no idea where to start.

    1. I’m glad you liked the quotes section! I knew South Africans would be able to tear apart the film much better than I could. 🙂 Yes, I am always annoyed when native actors aren’t given a chance to play plumb roles; it’s akin to saying that they aren’t “good enough” to tell the stories from their own cultures.
      I am definitely going to do a series on South Korean movies since everyone seems to like the idea! It will take some planning, though, so don’t expect the first review to appear for at least a couple of weeks. 🙂 Now I need to go read about you meeting Junot Díaz!!

  5. “Tsotsi” does sound the best of this series, I’m going to try and see it soon. I didn’t dislike “Invictus” but yeah, it was curiously low-key. The climatic Rugby World Cup-winning match shown in the film I watched for real in a pub near Harvard Square that was filled with white South Africans. I would be hard-pressed to say where this Afrikaner community emerged from, maybe related to the university. But their palpable excitement over the outcome of the game, and the grudging respect they showed for Nelson Mandela, was more interesting to me than the movie.

    1. Ooh, yes, I would have liked to have been in that pub on June 24, 1995. I bet it was interesting to watch that match. Nelson Mandela is almost universally respected, from what I can tell—he was in a league of his own when it came to South African politics.
      I do hope you enjoy “Tsotsi.” There’s a lot of good, subtle commentary about inequality in the film, which I think you will appreciate.

  6. It’s an enjoyable enough film but nothing to write home about. I think the title should have been ‘because sports’!

    I’m excited you’re doing South Korean films next! I love them. If you need any suggestions let me know 🙂

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