Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: 'Invictus' [C]

By Chase Kahn

Clint Eastwood is an old-time, classical studio director. One of the few who can churn out films year after year without reprieve, gliding on a wave of lifetime, Hollywood icon status. His films behind the camera are predictably clean-cut, to-the-point and fatally sentimental in their evocations and images. Invictus, the story of Nelson Mandela's first several years in office as President of post-apartheid South Africa and the springbok's miracle, symbolic run in the '95 Rugby World Cup, is no different.

It's shamelessly manipulative, cut-to-the-chase, old-school filmmaking in the worst sense. This is a powerful story of forgiveness, redemption and unity boiled down to a thick, syrupy molasses, spoon-fed to exhaustion. The opening shot of the film has a group of white, well-dressed South Africans playing rugby on one side of the street while a group of blacks play soccer on the other side, Mandela's caravan riding on the dirt-swept road in-between. Just in case you weren't aware of South Africa's racial divide, Eastwood spells it out for you.

And not just with one shot, but for 132 painfully repetitive and long-winded minutes. Soft piano chords and stirring strings slowly fade in and out of these plainly portrayed scenes of a nation rebuilding and the courage, strength and selflessness that must exist in order for forgiveness and cooperation.

The film's intentions and overall offensively blunt post-racial imagery can be summed up during the predictably trite championship rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand - which occupies the last thirty-some-odd minutes of the film. Make no mistake, this is very much a sports drama.

Here, Eastwood pours it on good and well, interspersing scenes of on-field action - men sweating and toiling away on the battlefield - with scenes of a nation putting aside all racial tides in this one moment of unity, of sport. Shots of families, white and black, watching closely from their homes, a wide-eyed young black boy mingling with a group of white security guards, listening to the game on the radio, plus Mandela's personal interracial security detail, all on the same team.

It's almost too easy to bash the song choice during a key scene where Mandela (played with staccato and saintliness by Morgan Freeman) visits the team before their opening match against Australia. Titled, "Colorblind", the sheer audacity of such an overbearing, obvious song choice recalls the crooning of Eastwood himself over the credits of last year's Gran Torino. Sometimes, with the 79-year old actor/director, the phrase "on-the-nose" just doesn't quite cut it.

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