By Chase Kahn
Clint Eastwood's Invictus (Warner Bros., 12.11.09), the Nelson Mandela-rugby biopic, is having its temperature checked through various media screenings on both coasts this past week and the near unanimous conclusion is that it's a well-drawn, predictably safe and performed historical recreation - a kind of flowery, no-scruff, inspirational Peter Morgan kind of thing. It's respectable in many ways, but no one will lay down for it.
Jeff Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere predicts Morgan Freeman will take home the Best Actor Oscar for his Nelson Mandela/Jesus performance as the uniting leader of a broken nation, but even he (a self-proclaimed Eastwood groupie) calls it a "second-tier" effort. I also love this quote:
"...a satisfying plate of pasta doesn't have to be 'brilliant.' It just has to be carefully prepared and well seasoned and made with love. Invictus is a very pleasant and mildly stirring bowl of fettucini with highly agreeable lead performance by Freeman. But it's not one of those ratatouille dishes that win awards and inspire raves from restaurant critics."
Variety's Todd McCarthy ("very good story very well told") and Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt ("temperate, evenhanded, overly timid") have both apparently broken the review embargo on the film, but have both offered more proof that Invictus is a warm, safe, predictable Frost/Nixon sort of thing.
That is, it will be adored by older viewers and journo-types and critics, likely nominated for a Best Picture Oscar because of its reverent overtones. But it won't stand a chance in winning and anybody and everybody under-35 who like their films more cerebral and slick will proclaim it as junk - you see it every year, and Invictus appears to be that film.