Tonight, PJ and I saw Invictus, Clint Eastwood‘s new film about Nelson Mandela. It stars Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar. The movie centers around Mandela’s use of the South African rugby team to unify his divided, post-Apartheid country. Here’s the trailer:

In sum, I’d say that I liked this movie but it probably isn’t in contention to be one of my favorite films of the year. I’ll start with what I like about it.

First and foremost, Damon is great in his role as the captain of the South African rugby team. I’m not very familiar with authentic South African accents, but Damon’s accent seemed believable to me. More importantly, it was consistent. It always drives me crazy when an actor’s dialogue comes and goes over the course of a movie (like Helen Hunt’s in As Good as It Gets).

I also really liked the cinematography. There are a lot of wide-angle shots and sweeping vistas, but what I particular like is that these “big” shots aren’t always meant to be scenic or beautiful. Sometimes they’re desolate and barren. Eastwood uses these shots very effectively to show not only the economic disparities between whites and blacks but also the country’s political turmoil. I also thought that the rugby matches were well shot.

I also really liked the film’s soundtrack. The South African national anthem plays a big part in the film, and the score mimics it and other African music/songs very well. Eastwood always pays a lot of attention to music in his films. He didn’t write the score for this one, but it uses music very well.

The film also uses the poem “Invictus” by the Victorian poet William Ernest Henley to great effect. It reads,

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

When Morgan Freeman reads part of the poem, which was an inspiration to Mandela during his imprisonment, during the movie, it’s a really wonderful and moving moment.

And finally, parts of this film are very moving. The Obama election is as close as the U.S. has gotten to a watershed political event, but even that doesn’t compare to the release and election of Mandela as the president of South Africa. I can’t really imagine what that was like, but Eastwood does a good job of making us feel it as much as possible.

While I liked the film, I ultimately found it to be less affective than some of Eastwood’s other movies. I cared a lot less about these people as people than I did characters in Million Dollar Baby or Gran Torino or Letters from Iwo Jima. I also thought the movie was too long in parts. Parts of it felt a little like paint by numbers. We pretty much knew what would happen next — not just in the sense of what happened historically but also in the sense of what the next scene would be.

I also didn’t find Morgan Freeman’s performance to be that compelling. He’s getting some Oscar talk and has even won at least one precursor award. But it seemed very one note to me. I also thought that his southern accent got in the way of his South African accent.

So, all in all, I liked the movie. I just wasn’t wowed by it.

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