Next up in this blog-a-thon is the second film focusing on South African politics, albeit one which highlights the unexpected political power of sport. For the majority of the time, sport doesn’t really play much of a role in politics but when it does, its importance cannot be denied. From the use of sport as a show of patriotism and the skill of other countries, through sport influencing policies through corruption (looking at you Fifa) and, in some cases, leading to the deaths of a large portion of the population (just look at the horrific conditions for workers in Qatar) sport can be highly important politically. When sport is used correctly though, it can help bring people together and that is what Invictus is all about.
The plot concerns the build up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup being held in South Africa, just after Nelson Mandela has been elected President. After seeing a friendly game between the South Africa Springboks and England, he recognises that the white population cheer for South Africa but the black population cheer for England (something he used to do whilst in prison) and gets the idea that he can use the upcoming World Cup to unite the population of South Africa, getting Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, to go along with him. However, in the minds of the black population, the Springboks represent the system of apartheid and white supremacy, made even more clear by the Springboks only having one black player, and along with that, the Springboks aren’t that good at rugby and the only reason they’re even in the World Cup is because they are hosting it so it’ll take a lot of work to unite the people of South Africa behind the Springboks. What I really like is that the film fully shows why Mandela thinks this is a good idea, it isn’t something that Mandela has pulled out of nowhere and it isn’t for the black population, it’s more for the white population, convincing them that South Africa will still respect them and that they have nothing to fear from the new government. I also really like how the film shows that Mandela isn’t perfect, that he has made mistakes and there are times when he cannot get people behind him, which helps to fully humanise Mandela. I also like that, just as rugby can influence politics, politics can influence rugby. The Springboks get united behind Mandela and his policies and as such, go out to the poorer areas of South Africa to gain support and even go to Robben Island with Pienaar seeing Mandela’s prison cell, with Pienaar being astonished that Mandela became peaceful in prison. There are a few elements that feel a bit heavy handed though, such as the changing relationship between the members of Mandela’s security team and the whole character of Pienaar’s black cleaner but the central thing the film needs to do, the mixing of rugby and politics, works really well. Plus, whilst I’d normally complain about cliches present in sports films seen here, since this is based on real events, I’m willing to let them slide seeing as they most likely happened in real life.
The performances meanwhile are excellent. Morgan Freeman is perfect casting as Nelson Mandela, not surprising considering that Freeman was Mandela’s personal choice to play him. Freeman brings across the dignity and respect that Mandela has, along with the weight on his shoulders due to the pressure of running South Africa in the severe political climate of the time. We also see how his political career has created rifts between him and his family, in particular his wife Winnie, although it doesn’t really go into that much detail. Matt Damon is also great as Francois Pienaar, he shows the frustration his character feels over how badly the Springboks are doing and his determination to make the team better. He also shows a great deal of respect and growing admiration for Mandela along with growing respect for the black community and this respect goes into the rugby field as he fully understands how important the World Cup is for the people of South Africa. Adjoa Andoh meanwhile is great as Brenda Mazibuko, showing a great deal of calm dignity and respect for Mandela, along with a willingness to question him and isn’t afraid to stand up to Mandela. The actors playing the security team are also great, having some moments of quiet humour whilst also showing Mandela respect, with the white actors getting this across really well, showing how people who used to terrorise the black community can become friends with them later on.
Overall, Invictus is a really good film. There are a few elements of the plot that don’t really work but the way the film matches up politics and rugby, showing the influence that they have on each other is brilliant and the performances, in particular a perfectly cast Morgan Freeman as Mandela, help make this film a really entertaining one and proves that you don’t need to be interested in rugby in order to find stories like this interesting.
My Rating: 4/5