Wednesday, January 27, 2010

DROPPING THE BALL

Nelson Mandela is a legend in my time and a perfect example of what the power of the human spirit can lead one to accomplish. So I'm probably not the only person who felt obligated to be inspired by Invictus, the story of how South African President Nelson Mandela inspired the Springboks, his country's rugby team, to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

But I wasn't. Frankly, I was a little bit bored. Over the course of its two-plus hours, I felt like the members of Mandela's staff, frustrated by his obsession with a silly sport when there were far more pressing national matters at hand.

Although I'm not completely sold on Morgan Freeman's performance (he didn't seem 100% comfortable with the accent, and it's basically another variation on his stock human Yoda), you couldn't ask for a better role, and Freeman himself, if not the movie, grew on me. The most interesting parts of the film were Mandela's interactions with his staff and the South African public as well as the continuing black vs. white tension in the aftermatch of apartheid, particularly among Mandela's security team. But I could have lived without the rugby.

And poor Matt Damon. Playing the captian of the Springboks, he has nothing to do other than pass the ball and look kind of awestruck. It must be the year's second most thankless role, after Steve Martin's in It's Complicated. Major stars, not to mention good actors, deserve so much better.

Maybe I went into the film with a negative attitude. It is, after all, named after a poem that my 7th grade English teacher, the recently deceased Ms. Powell, forced us to learn completely against my will. The invocation of that poem, by the way, only serves to highlight the film's pretentious aspirations. Early on, Mandela says it inspired him to stand when he felt like lying down during his 27 years in prison. Surely there's a far more interesting movie there!

Perhaps someday we'll get a fuller -- and, frankly, truly inspiring -- onscreen depiction of Mandela and the trials he faced before and after he became South Africa's president. And hopefully, they'll leave the rugby out of it.
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