DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman
Warner Home Video
Release date: May 19, 2010
A South African newspaper’s heading read “he won the election, now can he lead a country?” This unhopeful question is referring to Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), who in 1994 was elected the first black President of an apartheid stricken South Africa. After emerging 27 years from prison for political upheaval, Mr. Mandela had no inclinations to seek revenge on the white Afrikaners who placed the cuffs on him. Instead he disarmed any such thought, and the film, entitled Invictus — after an 1875 poem by British writer William Earnest Henley — is attracted to this passive stance which had, at its focal point, the sport of rugby.
Rugby is a primitive sport that glorifies brutality. A character in the film refers to it as a hooligans’ game. A bunch of ferocious men never hesitate to jolt another’s anatomy, leaving the victim writhing in pain on a field of grass that resembles man’s outer state; dirty, muddy, torn and worn. Each team interlocks with the other trying to move the opposition out of place so one team can snatch the ball up and progress it up-field. Despite the over-populated yelling crowd and the groans of the rugby players when their flesh smacks one another, communication is still tried amongst each team with hope of keeping order amongst each other. This does not sound so much like sport. Rather, it has characteristics that resemble wars, battles, and even apartheids (split teams).
To think that 79-year-old director Clint Eastwood would see rugby as a sport would be to diminish his subtle, artful gaze that separates him from all other directors working today. Eastwood uses the entire scope of rugby as a metaphor for the struggles, beatings, and uphill battles one has to conquer in order to achieve unity. Opposed to showing South Africa’s actual dysfunctional society, the carnage, and unhealthy state of it, Eastwood depicts it through rugby; the main objective that Mandela used to bring a nation together.
Eastwood has a wild, yet restrained, vision to navigate intently upon a subject, furtively discerning a radiant and unexposed are of unexplored topics and spinning them to implicate something most profound. He locates a deep wound (struggles of apartheid) and tries to caress it by dissecting it, glancing at it more than once and then unhesitatingly clawing at it until peace and tranquility arise out of it.
Most Eastwood films usually pursue this form of dissection in a grim and dark fashion, wounding us by the blunt force of his direction that focuses on the stains, blotches and corruption of life (see Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby). Invictus may seem like the oddball out of all his recent masterpieces. Without a doubt the topic of Invictus is as dark and depressing as any of his recent films, but how he goes about trying to ease the tension, not dissecting it in a bleak fashion, is masterful and sublime. And it all begins with the idea of rugby (an idea of a team) caressing the wound caused by apartheid.
The rugby team of South Africa, the Springboks, was a mediocre team made up of all white players except for one black man. They still carried with them, despite Mandela’s wishes for a unified, rainbow nation, the strong sentiments of the apartheid. Their reputation amongst the black population could not be rectified because the lack of black players and the team color that signified strongly the apartheid flag of South Africa. The team captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), wants his squad to be lifted out of the ranks of mediocrity. When he gets a call, in a moving scene, from Mandela, who took note of Francois’ pride and will to win, the Springboks realize that they have the possibility to change the entire society of South Africa for the better. Damon as Pienaar is further revelation that he is emerging as one of our finest actors today. His ability to stand tall and confident while acting as an Afrikaner is testament to his passion of taking risks as an actor. The risks pay off here.
Morgan Freeman, as seen from his previous roles, has a voice and demeanor that is transient, making whatever he utters the very last world, the end all say all. His apparently luminous and God-like look bodes well in this role. When his Mandela is expected to react on a particular situation that should side him with his population (he makes sure that race isn’t prevalent in his decision making) he ends up finding influential view points with the opposing side of the white Afrikaners, literally shaking up the entire black population into a silent uproar. Mandela refuses to pander to current prejudices and popular tastes.
Freeman isn’t capable of not leaving an indelible mark upon viewers. He is an exact representation of what Mandela stands for; peace and equality. Freeman undertakes Mandela’s mannerisms, his accent and most importantly his life changing perspectives, and posits a performance that is truly touching and utterly amazing.
Invictus radiates moments of purity, but soon is plagued by the climactic rugby match which is both schematic and overdramatic. Eastwood works best in the confines of a human drama (most of the film is). He has a power of style, not in the sense of extravagance, but in the sense of simplicity. This simplicity — which resembles the effortless works of mastery by deceased Japanese director, Edward Yang — is able to amount to something wonderful; a master that has learned to master his craft to perfection.
High-Def Picture: Clint Eastwood has managed to create for blu-ray aficionados a wonderful catalogue of films that are superb when they make the transfer to high-definition. His uncanny ability to capture realism is pervasive in every film he directed in the last decade. So it is no surprise that his latest film captures the same essence of Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Changeling. Each of those films are drenched in a somber tone, creating a mood that is both tranquil and disheartening but still maintaining a crisp and vibrant image. His Invictus transfer may be his brightest transfer of all his films. South Africa is seen through the lenses as a place of golden beauty; skies are piercing blue and the grass is as sharp as it can be. But there is a downfall. At times the film proves to be too bright, lending a more hazy quality to it than a crystal clear one. The skin tones and night scenes are justified; never do they once reveal qualities that could make them flawed. Overall, Eastwood’s latest film to make it onto blu-ray doesn’t disappoint nor does it wow us with its clarity.
Matt Damon Plays Rugby; HD (7mins): For those not brushed up on the game of rugby this feature will be something you will be interested in. It shows Damon training to play rugby and the rules of the game are explained somewhat.
“Invictus” Music Trailer; HD (3mins): Not so much a traditional music video. This feature showcases an extended trailer of the film set to music that director Clint Eastwood composed.
Blu-Ray Special Features:
Vision, Courage and Honor; HD: A picture-in-picture feature that takes the place of the conventional commentary track found on numerous of discs. During the film a PIP pops up that includes the film’s important contributors and historical figures and they discuss the film’s relevance.
Mandela Meets Morgan; HD (29mins): A feature that showcases both Morgan Freeman and Nelson Mandela partaking in certain events, showing how their relationship developed into something special. Matt Damon and his character that he portrays in the film are showcased as well. As well as the full rugby team. The feature offers some picture-in-picture stuff.
The Eastwood Factor; SD (23mins): Former TIME Magazine critic Richard Schickel discloses to us his fascination and admiration he has for Mr. Eastwood. He goes on explaining to us that he is in the works of creating a very extensive and elaborate documentary on Eastwood that will be released during Eastwood’s 80th birthday. This feature displays a short and digestible amount of that documentary but leaves you aching for more of what Schickel managed to put together.
Movie: ***1/2 out of ****
Features: ***1/2 out of ****
Picture: *** out of ****