Doing a believable biopic is tough.
Double that when the person is world-famous and still alive. Triple it when the person in question is Nelson Mandela. Back the concern down a notch when the director is Clint Eastwood. Take it down one more. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela.
Invictus is about the first year when Mandela served as the president of South Africa. Under incredible pressure to succeed, Mandela needed a way to bind together all of the people of his nation — black and white.
His choice was the national rugby team. A long-shot at winning a World Cup, Mandela convinced team captain Francios Pienaar to help him get everyone in South Africa rooting for the team. South Africa won the world cup in 1995, and Mandela’s plan worked.
Whites hated him. Blacks were confused about why — after being unjustly imprisoned for 30 years — he didn’t want to exact revenge. Mandela is all about freedom and equality for all. “I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man,” he said.
This is the message that Eastwood brings so eloquently for two-thirds of his movie. Freeman’s relaxed delivery and uncanny resemblance to Mandela are convincing. He nails the African icon’s dialect and delivery and gives a Zen-like performance. For two-thirds of a movie Freeman is in a zone. Then he runs out of things to do.
Matt Damon as Pienaar isn’t so lucky. His every interaction with Freeman’s Mandela is interpreted as close to a religious experience. Too much awe is awful. Eventually so is Eastwood’s movie.
Acts one and two of Invictus are worth the price of a ticket. Ever attentive to detail and the importance of the cinematography to a story and with the patience to tell a great story, Eastwood is arguably America’s greatest director. The first half of Invictus is moving and inspiring.
Act three has Eastwood and writer Anthony Peckham (the soon-to-be-released Sherlock Holmes) churning out an ordinary sports movie chock full of cliche sports slow motion, crises of courage and last-second heroics.
Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It opens Friday, Dec. 11 at Regal’s Columbia Mall 8 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.