After anticipating the movie Invictus for many months, being South African, and watching it recently, I’m compelled to comment. On the whole, it is undeniably an excellent film (with Oscar potential) and extremely thought-provoking. However, it left me feeling, in a word – unfulfilled.
First, some praise: Nelson Mandela is revered in South Africa (across all races) probably more even than elsewhere in the world. Although Madiba himself is the only one truly equipped to comment, Morgan Freeman, in my opinion, did him justice, in a phenomenal portrayal which captured not only the mannerisms and character, but the indomitable spirit, of this iconic man who we love.
On the other hand, I feel that Matt Damon (who is another of my all-time favourite actors), delivered a thoroughly competent, but (…and I hate to say it) inauthentic performance. It seemed to me that he was perhaps overly conscious of portraying François Pienaar ‘correctly’, accent and all, and perhaps overly mindful of his sports-icon status within the country. Unfortunately Matt lacks François’s physical stature, which was very evident (impacting on the perspective of the entire rugby team, I thought), but far more marked was the lack of personal (and leadership) presence, which François possesses in abundance. My sense is that if Matt had drawn more on his own magnetic character and unquestionable stature as a Hollywood icon, he may have lifted the game, not only for the rest of his on-screen team, but for the entire project.
Despite outstanding cinematography and special effects, another thing that struck me was the over-arching dullness and drabness with which this country was portrayed, including people and places. While I imagine this was done with specific intent, to conjure a sense of apartheid oppression, it fails to convey the vivid African energy, richness of cultural heritage and breath-taking natural beauty which is integral to the South Africa of my experience. Scenery-wise, even the panoramic aerial view of Cape Town, widely noted as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, came across as largely colourless.
On a broader note, it’s worth bearing in mind that there were +- 40 million people living in South Africa in 1995, which means that there are as many unique perspectives on the events of the time. Perhaps that highlights just how simplified and summarized Clint Eastwood‘s version has to be. The focus of the story is of course, quite rightly, Nelson Mandela, and his mind-blowing journey of transcending – in particular, apartheid. This barbaric system impacted intrinsically on the life of every South African, and deserves to be portrayed in the primitive light that the movie sheds. My hope, though, is that the audience recognizes that the representation of South Africans, particularly from a racial point of view, is significantly limited.
Still, perhaps the heart of my dissatisfaction stems from expectation. Having witnessed first-hand the astonishingly powerful, unifying emotion associated with the 1995 World Cup win, on the heels of Nelson Mandela’s almost miraculously peaceful election as president the year before, I was thrilled at the prospect of this being shared with a world audience. However, I question whether the movie can engender the overwhelming warmth and wonder experienced by so many of us here.
Invictus didn’t bring me to tears, which is not a tough ask 🙂 In a nutshell, it’s the ‘heart part’ that fell short for me.