INVICTUS — ★★1/2 — Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, slurs, vulgarity, brief drugs); in general release
"Invictus" has the makings of a decent little biographical drama. It also has the makings of a decent little "feel good" sports drama.
Unfortunately, the film tries to be both of those things at once. And at times it seems conflicted, as if filmmaker Clint Eastwood couldn't decide exactly which movie he wanted to make.
And as ambitious as it may be, thematically, the drama is too talky and a tad too long.
Ultimately, it's the worthiness of the real-life story on which the film is based, as well as a handful of good performances, that really prevent it from getting into serious trouble.
Morgan Freeman stars as South African leader Nelson Mandela, who's recently been released from nearly 30 years of captivity. (This tale in set in the 1990s.)
Having been elected his country's president, Mandela is set on, among other things, racial reconciliation.
He believes one way to achieve this is through the success of the national Springboks rugby team, which is captained by Fran?is Pienaar (Matt Damon).
South Africa is hosting the 1995 World Cup rugby event, and the Springboks team automatically qualifies for that.
With help from Pienaar, Mandela believes he can rally the entire country behind the team, especially if it does well in the tournament.
Freeman is hampered a bit by ill-fitting dental appliances and a questionable attempt at a South African accent — which sometimes sounds like performing an Asian stereotype instead.
But he's still charismatic and has a commanding presence, even if Anthony Peckham's script doesn't really give him much more to do than that. (It's certainly lacking in any new insights into the character.)
A muscled-up Damon fares better with the tricky accent, and he is physically convincing.
Again, it's due mostly to their efforts that the whole thing doesn't fall on its face.
Eastwood's direction seems unsure and tentative, and the inclusion of a pop song — the overbearing "Colorblind" — is an obvious attempt to sell a few soundtrack discs.
"Invictus" is rated PG-13 and features some violent content and imagery (newsreel footage of warfare and fighting, as well as athletics-based violence), scattered strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), derogatory language and slurs (mostly based on nationality), a few vulgar references (slang terms), and brief drug references (vitamins and prescription medicines). Running time: 132 minutes