Finally saw Invictus this weekend, and I gotta say that opinion-wise, I’m torn. On the one hand, the acting was fantastic. Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela is probably the best match-up of actor-historical character, and must’ve been the easiest casting call to make. Hell, you don’t have to put makeup on Freeman, and Mandela, a man of quiet dignity that radiates awe is exactly the type of character that Freeman has consistently excelled at playing. Also, Matt Damon was pretty good – his South African accent was declared by a South African acquaintance of mine as perfect. The story is also quite nice, and its refreshing to see a sport other than football, baseball, or basketball depicted in a widely distributed movie, and one that clearly had Oscarian aspirations.
On the other hand…The movie was about the racial bonding that this game enabled. Obviously, this isn't a problem in-itself. The problem was how this theme was depicted and developed - it was done in such a run-of-the-mill Hollywood way that was boring and sometimes annoying. I can’t even tell you how many times an Afrikaaner, who formerly talked disparagingly about the blacks, looks over a black man or woman with a disarming and knowing smile, as if to say ‘Hey, no worries…I’ve learned better. All that racial shit before…nah....I’ve grown. So, let’s go watch rugby.” RRRR. RRR. I know. The movie’s plot dwelt on that point, and it was important that the audience came out of the movie really realizing just how bad things were before, and how helpful the game really was. But at the same time…I feel that moments such as that are just cheap ways of demonstrating the point, tugging at the heartstrings almost in a wishy-washy, non-confrontational way (not that those adjectives apply, per se to that scene - the scene just gives of that sort of vibe). And yet the happened again and again.
Furthermore, the rugby scenes weren’t especially good. Again, a South African acquaintance, “All the Americans thought there was too much rugby in the movie, all the Africans thought there wasn’t enough.” He also said that the rugby scenes weren’t well done, because they used actors, not rugby players. I don’t know anything about rugby, and to me it did look like they were playing pretty hard. But rugby is a hell of a sport, and I can believe that it gets tougher, rougher, and more violent than depicted. I didn’t think there was too much rugby though. I thought what rugby there was was A) incredibly difficult to understand. The scoreboard was rarely shown, which was obviously a poor move, considering it’s a sport that so few Americans understand. Show us the scoreboard, because any audience will at least understand points.
B) Slow motion. The last play of the game, the great one, the monumental and historical game, was played in slow motion. And it slo-moed for quite a while. Ten minutes, it seemed. I have to say that at one point in my brief life, slow motion in sports movies worked for me. It built the dramatic tension, emphasized how hard the game was, etc. Now, I’m done. It’s another cheap trick that has lost much luster. I can’t take it seriously. I hear slow motion grunts, I see everything slow motion…I get bored. Honestly, what should have been a climactic scene failed to move me and truthfully bored me. Perhaps they could have used the slo-mo sparingly, and that would have worked. But they blocked out everything at quarter speed, or whatever slow down they did. And then, of course, because of all the slow motion power, they win (well, not really. But its very easy to say that, considering they weren't winning until the play-speed was slowed down drastically. So maybe they had more time to push? I don't know. Never played slow motion rugby). Anyway I can’t begrudge the movie that they won – it’s a true story, and they did win (that’s just a gripe of mine about sports movies – teams always win. Except for Friday Night Lights, which also used a bunch of slo-mo. But that seemed to work there, I think, because it flowed seamlessly with the soundtrack provided by Explosions in the Sky, that drony, electronic violin sounding stuff. And I know that teams need to win in sports movies, because otherwise, who cares. Just a gripe.)
Another annoying thing about Invictus. When Freeman, as Mandela descends via helicopter to wish the team good luck, some song that is remarkably corny comes on. My god. They couldn’t have chosen a worse song. Something about overcoming odds, or ignoring black and white…I don’t know. Awful. I was embarrassed for the movie. Samantha, who watched the movie with me, stated, “Someone really wanted to get that song in this movie.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. If anyone has seen Prince Caspian, and recalls the song that plays right before the credits…well, it was like that. Perhaps a producer thought this song could be the next Celine Dion Titanic song. Well, producer, you were wrong. It was a crap choice.
This review makes it seem as though I really didn’t like the movie. Not at all. The reason I’m laying out these complaints is because it was a good movie that could have been really, really great, if not for these simple mistakes that stand out so loudly. At times, the movie just was too…Hollywoody? Let me explain one more instance. The two bodyguards, white guy and black guy are watching the game (these are the more ‘second in command’ bodyguards. Also, what follows has nothing to do with whether they are black or white- this is just the easiest way to differentiate the two). First, the white guy, who is a huge rugby fan explains to the black guy that the game is going to OT. The black guy says, in predictable Hollywood fashion, “I can’t look” or something of that ilk. Yeah, yeah, a little humor. But that is the humorless humor, the obligatory Hollywood humor that exists to draw chuckles, because it inevitably does, to break tension, to, to, to accomplish nothing as regards the plot, to contribute nothing significant to the history of humor, and for god’s sake its been done so many times before. And then, the worst!! This pair of bodyguards, as everyone is cheering, the team won, awesome, turn to each other, happy, about to hug, and then back off. The “Bros gone almost too far because they got caught up in the moment” moment. Seriously!? I hate that. It was funny the first time it was done. Then, it turned into a capital offense to cinema. Come on, really?
There are many other instances I could relate (the odd asides of story line, like with the little black boy who listens to the white cops’ radio, the twice done trick of "where you think something bad is going to happen, and then poof! its benign!" [newspaper delivery truck, airplane with “Go Bokkes” written on the bottom], the corny [again with the corny, I’m sorry] scene in the jail cell where Damon pictures Freeman reading the poem [that scene could have been much more powerful] and lastly, when Damon tells Freeman “Thank you Mr. President, for what you’ve done for the country,” right after Freeman tells Damon the same thing. That line was the worst acting of the movie and seemed so forced – Damon didn’t say it so much as push it out of his mouth in a wave of aural reluctance).
That little bit above typifies my reaction to Invictus. It was a good movie. But there were just so many of these scenes that I couldn’t focus on the main story of the film – the empowering figure of Nelson Mandela who strove to unite a country that didn’t want to unite, and managed to do it using a powerful symbol of the previously repressive Afrikaaner majority and by using Jesusesque (maybe Gandhish) forgiveness.