Most of the reviews of Invictus that I’d read before watching the film turned out, to be fair, to be bang on the money. There’s one of America’s finest living directors in Clint Eastwood. There’s one of the great narrators of Hollywood in Morgan Freeman. There’s Matt Damon. And there’s the story of Nelson Mandela to tell.
More to the point, it’s one story of Nelson Mandela to tell, specifically, how he seized upon the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa as an event through which he could unite the divided population of the nation. It’s a solid way to get a handle on a significant period of history for South Africa, and it also allows broader themes to be explored, all tied to one big sporting tournament.
The problem with it all, though? It’s a professional, steadfast telling of a story, that’s very well made, and one that ticks all the right boxes. But it never really elevates itself to a compelling movie.
Invictus is a very watchable film, certainly, and it’s made in the kind of economical manner that I’ve come to love about Clint Eastwood-directed movies. I’m not talking financially economical, rather the lack of showboating, and the emphasis on telling the story itself.
However, here there’s not enough spark to give what is an extraordinary story the kind of gravitas I felt it needed. Granted, Morgan Freeman is in fine form as Mandela here, and he alone brings the project extra weight (even if his accent does seem to slip a little from time to time), and I really warmed to Matt Damon’s understated portrayal of South African rugby captain François Pienaar.
Furthermore, Eastwood certainly knows how to stage a rugby match on film. If you can look over the fact that he’s a bit liberal with the laws of the game, I found the big finale final match to be very well done, and exciting to watch.
But the end result of the movie, I felt, was a little less than the sum of its proverbial parts. It’s a solid, engaging telling of the story, but one that left me with the feeling that the great Mandela-inspired movie is still some way away.
The picture quality, particularly during some of the wide cityscape shots and such like that Eastwood employs, does show off the benefit of a high definition upgrade. And throughout, this is one of the best picture transfers I’ve seen all year. Again, it doesn’t showboat, but it consistently impresses.
The same, too, can be said of the very active surround mix, which handles a variety of material superbly well. There’s little doubt you’re getting a good technical upgrade here if you go down the Blu-ray route.
The bonus material is a little less generous, although the picture-in-picture supplement that brings in little bits of information as the film plays is certainly worth a spin.
There’s also a talking head-packed piece called Mandela Meets Morgan, a look at Matt Damon learning to play rugby, a music trailer, and a segment of The Eastwood Factor, the forthcoming documentary that’s being supplied with Warner Bros’ upcoming 35-movie Clint Eastwood boxset.
It’s a tidy collection in all, but far from a vital one.
The Movie:The Disc:
Invictus is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.