Based on the book Playing the Enemy by John Carlin, Invictus tells an amazing story that needs to be told and passed on about the power of people uniting.
The film is set in South Africa, and the story briefly begins on February 11th, 1990, the day of Nelson Mandela’s release from 27 years in prison as a result of his fighting against the country’s apartheid policies of racial segregation. The difference between the peoples is immediately evident. White kids are shown at a prep school practicing rugby on a well-manicured lawn while across the road black children are playing soccer on a rundown, dried-out field.
Apartheid comes to an end and Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is elected President in 1994, the first election blacks are allowed to vote. Life is understandably tense for Mandela and his administration in the first few days. It would be like if an African American had been elected U.S. President in 1964 after the Civil Rights Act passed. Mandela works very hard to bridge a relationship with the white Afrikaners not solely because it’s the right thing to do, but because they still have great power economically.
As the host country of the upcoming Rugby World Cup the following year, Mandela seeks to bond the races through support of the Springboks, the national team lead by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon). This is a difficult task on two fronts. Blacks have traditionally rooted against them because of what they represented. Also, the team is below average and might not have taken part in the Cup if they hadn’t been granted the host country’s exemption. Mandela works on two fronts to bring his people together, motivating everyone to strive for something bigger than themselves.
Although the outcome has been recorded in the history books, director Clint Eastwood and his team get the viewer swept up in the emotion. There’s a touching scene where the predominantly white players go visit a school of black children to engender goodwill. The men don’t want to, but the children melt their hearts and likely will the viewers.
There are also a few choices by Eastwood that don’t work. Pienaar goes to the prison where Mandela had been held and imagines him in the yard and hears his voice. It may have happened but the scene doesn’t hold together and strikes a different tone than the rest of the film. Some of the song choices distract, like when Mandela arrives by helicopter to wish team good luck. Considering he’s a musician, it’s surprising he didn’t notice how that song especially clashed. But those minor
Freeman gives a great performance as Mandela and immerses himself within the character. While this is a common occurrence when witnessing Freeman at work, it’s an impressive feat to accomplish when playing a recent historical figure that many viewers would be familiar with.
The fact that this is a true story of a nation coming together is simultaneously inspiring and disappointing considering the current state of the world and the stories in the news.
The Blu-ray comes in a combo pack with a DVD/Digital Copy. Annoyingly, it starts with an ad for the box set Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years. before allowing access to the menu.
The video is presented with a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer and an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The images offer great color and accurate blacks. Film grain is present, and there is great detail on display as spit can be seen coming out of players’ mouths and tiny specks of dirt and grass can be seen kicked up off the field. The only problem was in some scenes, the picture lost clarity in backgrounds and some objects turned soft, like an early scene where Mandela first addresses the white staff from the previous administration.
The audio is available in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 5.1 in French and Spanish. The DTS wasn’t mixed well as the levels were poor and out of balance. I frequently had to adjust the volume from dialogue, which could be soft and the accents were hard to make out when some actors whispered, to the overpowering effects and music. The bass rumbled and distorted when a plane flew overhead and during the overtime session of the final match. There was good crowd noise in the surrounds and objects were positioned well, like a TV set Mandela is watching switches speaker channels depending on where it is in relation to him on screen.
The special features are “Matt Damon Plays Rugby” (HD 7 min), a glowing look at the actor, and the Invictus Music Trailer (HD, 3min). Features exclusive to Blu-ray include “Vision, Courage and Honor” (HD), a Picture-in-Picture commentary track with Eastwood, the actors, the screenwriter, and real individuals. It includes behind-the-scenes footage. “Mandela Meets Morgan” (HD, 28 min) has a wider focus than the title indicates and covers what went into getting the film made. Lastly, an excerpt from Richard Schickel’s documentary, The Eastwood Factor (SD, 22 min). It’s compelling and makes a fan want to see the entire piece.
Invictus is a good film about a great story of humanity that deserves to be remembered. It’s worth seeing on Blu-ray.