After 27 years as a political prisoner, Nelson Mandela (Freeman) was released in February 1990 and four years later became South Africa's first democratically elected president. Caught between the black majority's yearning for revenge and the white minority's fear of violence, he tenaciously plots a course of reconciliation. His focus becomes the Springbok rugby team, a loathed symbol of white rule. Working with team captain Francois Pienaar (Damon) as the 1995 Rugby World Cup approaches, he knows that getting the whole country behind them will unite people more effectively than political willpower.
Eastwood is such a fine filmmaker that he strikes a perfect balance between momentous events and real people. The film is directed in an intimate style that stays close to the characters so that things are always in perspective. As a result, the huge events and telling details combine to create vivid personalities and real resonance. Meanwhile, the writing and directing both refuse to whitewash the jagged tension of each encounter. Even while undercutting scenes with humour or emotion, the bitter attitudes and rampant mistrust are clear.
There are issues with casting North Americans in the key roles, but both are such fine actors that it's hard to complain. Neither attempts an impersonation, which is a good thing. Damon is likeable and tentative as the muscled, thoughtful sportsman who slowly finds his inspiration (the title, Latin for "invincible", refers to a 19th century poem that inspired Mandela while he was imprisoned). And Freeman is marvellously understated; he may not look much like Mandela, but he beautifully catches the collision of incisive wisdom, cheeky curiosity and sharp wit.
We almost forget that we're watching history simply because we're drawn so deeply into each scene. Eastwood's direction is so technically skilful that it becomes almost viscerally real. The film may avoid casting shadows around Mandela, but what if the world's leading politicians had even half this much integrity? Watching him choose a difficult path of compassion, forgiveness and peace gives hope to all of us.
Run time: 134 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th December 2009
Box Office USA: $37.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $122.2M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, Revelations Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 176 Rotten: 56
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Anthony Peckham
Starring: Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, Tony Kgoroge as Jason Tshabalala, Patrick Mofokeng as Linga Moonsamy, Matt Stern as Hendrick Booyens, Julian Lewis Jones as Etienne Feyder, Adjoa Andoh as Brenda Mazibuko, Marguerite Wheatley as Nerine, Leleti Khumalo as Mary, Patrick Lyster as Mr. Pienaar, Scott Eastwood as Joel Stransky, Langley Kirkwood as George, Bonnie Henna as Zindzi, Danny Keough as Rugby President, Robin Smith as Johan De Villiers
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