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Vol. LXIII, No. 50
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

WE WON, WE WON!: The captain (Matt Damon, center) of the Springboks, the South African national rugby team, holds high the world cup which the team has won for their country. Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman, left), the post apartheid president of South Africa, applauds the team’s achievement and proclaims that “Reconciliation starts here.”

Invictus: Morgan Freeman Is Nelson Mandela in Inspirational Saga

Kam Williams

When Nelson “Madiba” Mandela (Morgan Freeman) became president of South Africa, an important aspect of his mission was to help his fellow citizens develop a collective consciousness in the wake of the dismantling of apartheid. This was no mean feat, for the de jure system of segregation had strict color lines which had kept blacks and whites apart and at odds for decades.

Furthermore, the nation had just finished a bloody civil war which left both groups very suspicious of each other’s motivations. Whites worried about how they would be treated as a minority, while blacks were primarily concerned about improving their lot in life after having suffered as second-class citizens for generations.

Although Mandela himself had endured extreme hardships at the hands of the apartheid government, including 27 years of brutal incarceration as a political prisoner, he was determined to govern impartially, seeking to encourage black aspirations and alleviate white fears of retribution. In 1995, with the country chosen to host the Rugby World Cup Championship, he seized on the idea of using the event to unite the people by encouraging everyone to rally around the mostly white Afrikaner Springboks, the South African national team. So, ignoring the skepticism of his closest advisors, Mandela announced that, “Reconciliation starts here!”

This is the point of departure of Invictus, a sports saga and historical drama directed by Clint Eastwood. The film co-stars Morgan Freeman as elder statesman Mandela opposite Matt Damon who perfected an Afrikaner accent in order to portray Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks. The movie is based on the best seller Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation but takes its title from William Ernest Henley’s classic poem containing the immortal lines: “In the fell clutch of circumstance … I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

A critical component of Mandela’s plan involved inspiring Pienaar and his teammates to accept the motto “One team, one country!” Still, a slogan alone would not be enough, which meant Mandela also needed the Springboks to rise to the occasion and prevail in the tournament, if his novel notion were to take hold and sweep across the land. This is why he brought them on an outing to the infamous Robben Island, sharing those memorable lines from “Invictus” which had sustained him during his incarceration in a dank prison cell there.

The movie works better when recounting such poignant, personal interludes which reveal Mandela’s complicated psyche than during the scenes recreating rugby matches staged in Ellis Park Stadium. Unfortunately, the movie focuses far more on the latter than the former, thereby attributing South Africa’s critical turn towards racial reconciliation more to a sporting event than to the wise insight of a sage leader who envisioned forgiveness as the only path to a lasting peace.

Very Good (3 stars). Rated PG-13 for brief profanity. Running time: 134 minutes. Studio: Warner Brothers.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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