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