Having now seen this movie, its has become my favorite thing about this year's Oscar Nominations that this movie didn't make best picture. Something like this is usually in there, a movie that in all regards either sucks or in preferable cases is just plain average. But by piggybacking on worthy real life subject matter they deny truly great films from receiving recognition and despite nobody really liking them are mentioned as this year's best films. Invictus is almost the definitive of this kind of film, more then I even thought was possible. Its so thoroughly unimpressive and unspectacular, that even with the spectre of supposed value, I can't really see how it could do anything but underwhelm.
The trailer told you the story going in, which is basically the recently freed and now president of South Africa Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), trying to reunite his racially fractured nation, where the blacks hate the whites (mostly due to a hundred years or so of repression) and the whites hate them in kind, by garnering national support of the Springbok rugby team captained by Francois Pienaar who suddenly looks very much like Matt Damon. The plan being if they win the world cup, it will bring both races together in patriotic joy. What's all the more galling here, is that this is a story that is quite inspiring in theory but its handled with such indifference by director Clint Eastwood, who before this film was very slowly winning me round as a director, but here he just presents the material with no real investment in it. It doesn't help that the dialogue, particularly Mandela's, is so portentously speechified. We get Mandela is an important and great man, but it's kind of silly to have every word he says sound like part of a nobel prize speech. It's distancing and fake, and prevents Morgan Freeman from making the character anything more then a point of reference for history and rugby fans. Having said that, I do think Freeman gave it his best here, and the usual wisdom and kindliness is present and correct. Its just not enough to save the movie from its lazy, undercooked self. Matt Damon, who I can only assume took this role because he knew it was guaranteed award recognition no matter what, is OK and doesn't do anything all that wrong, but its a dull character on the page and that shows. I like the guy but the fact that he got Oscar nominated for this of all things is, simply put, silly.
Its a veiled sports movie at its core though and judged by that tent-pole it comes up similarly short. The rugby sequences are repetitive and dull, and even a few slow motion camera tricks don't help. Just as when America tries to make films about football, there's a clear misunderstanding of the game and more importantly what makes it exciting. And its treatment of it sums up the movie itself. Uninspiring cinema about inspiring reality. But more importantly, running at nearly three hours, just too fucking boring.