Clint Eastwood’s Invictus features a politician who is smart enough to unite his people in spite of themselves and a rugby captain desperate to lead his team to the world cup. The politician is Nelson Mandela played by Morgan Freeman and the captain is Francois Pienaar, played by Matt Damon. All great names who all deliver to the best of their ability in a truly inspiring story based on true events.
The movie begins by setting the stage in an unsubtle but effective way. White children in South Africa are seen playing soccer with their coach. The camera pans to the left side of the road and shows black children playing the same game but with shoddy equipment and no uniforms. Several important-looking cars then drive by and the black kids cheer at the car, while the white kids simply stare. One of the white players asks the coach who the man in the main car is and the coach answers “It is that terrorist Mandela.”
This scene illustrates the difficult task that lay ahead of the newly elected president of South Africa after he was released from a 27 year jail term on Robben Island. The white minority that controlled the country during the apartheid years did not trust him and the black majority had a yearning for revenge. However Mandela knew that revenge was not the way to go. One of his first act as president was to assign white bodyguards to work alongside his black bodyguards. This move even took his chief bodyguard, Jason (Tony Kgoroge), by surprise since these men used to be his enemy.
Mandela’s next surprising and much more controversial act is to give his full support to the national Rugby team, the Springboks, who for years were worshipped by the white population while the black citizens cheered for the opposing team, whomever they might be. From Mandela’s point of view the country needed unity and a reason to celebrate as one nation. When asked if this is a political calculation, he replies “It is a human calculation.”
Morgan Freeman was born to play this role. The man has played god (twice), the director of the CIA, the president of the United States, and now one of the most important politician of the 20th century. When he plays Nelson Mandela he plays him as the multi-layered individual that he is. He is smart enough to make decisions that will not please everyone, but his conscience tells him that it will be worth it in the long-run. The movie mentions that he is separated from his wife and his relationship with his daughter seems tense. He certainly had a tough life and many responsibilities. At the same time he seems fearless and inexplicably energetic. His bodyguards follow him with concern as he gets up at the crack of dawn for a morning walk, despite the fact that many people in the street would relish at the opportunity to assassinate him.
The other key player is of course Francois Pienaar who was given the difficult task to take a lagging team and lead all of its players to victory. Another great scene involves Mandela and Pienaar discussing how to lead and inspire others. Ultimately this is the theme of this movie: inspiration. It is about the power to unite people with a common goal and convince them to move beyond their weaknesses in order to achieve what they once thought was impossible.
It is very difficult to find a more inspiring genre than the sport movie, which is what Invictus becomes towards the end. All of South Africa is watching Pienaar’s team that keeps defying the pundits who predicted his doom. Mandela is watching the games late at night against doctor’s orders. You just really want these guys to win.