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Warner Bros. Pictures

More than a game

Movies | The power of forgiveness triumphs in Eastwood's Invictus

Issue: "News of the Year," Jan. 2, 2010

Director Clint Eastwood picked three difficult topics for Invictus-racism, the life of Nelson Mandela, and rugby-and pulled them together into a unifying feel-good film about the power of forgiveness.

Morgan Freeman plays former South African president Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison and still found a way, when he attained the highest office in his country, to befriend the Afrikaners who kept him locked up. One of the best things about Invictus is its beginning comes at what would probably be the end of any other biopic about Mandela. He's succeeded F.W. de Klerk, and all of de Klerk's white employees are packing their bags. To anyone else, it would look like victory.

Not Mandela. In one of the best performances Freeman's ever given, he sits his white colleagues down and tells them that they can leave if they want to, but they will not be fired. Then he turns his attention to more important affairs of state, namely rugby. There's a strong movement to disband the Springboks, a team that, to many South Africans, still represents apartheid, and Mandela decides to keep the 'Boks in place. With help from the team captain, Francois Pienaar, he wants to reform sports, too.

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There are sections in Invictus that lag considerably. When the movie nears its climax, though, Eastwood really shows his stuff. In most sports movies, the Big Game is about the Big Game, and so it's about how well the director can make actors look like athletes.

Here, the reaction shots from the crowd become just as important: We're looking for the 'Boks to beat the New Zealand All Blacks, sure, but we're also searching to see if the white cops listening to their car radio are going to push away the little black beggar kid or let him pretend to sift through the garbage so he can hear the game. Will the stodgy black secret service agent hug the stodgy white secret service agent?

The answer isn't much of a mystery, but the payoff feels good, and it makes for a great, mostly family-friendly film (there's some cursing, hence the PG-13 rating).

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