Clint Eastwood's Invictus made me ruminate about the difference between great movie-making and great story-telling. I hope to go into that subject at greater length in my blog in the near future.
What struck me about Invictus was that Eastwood - nobody's idea of a flashy or innovative filmmaker - really knows how to tell a story. Eastwood is among the most economical of filmmakers, with little wasted motion and no stylistic flourishes. He's always all about the story, the action - about telling the tale and getting out of its way.
Eastwood's film is about a chapter of sports and international political history that few outside of South Africa would be aware of. In most ways, it's a standard underdog tale, but this one comes with a difference.
That difference is Nelson Mandela, as iconic and heroic a figure as the 20th century produced. As portrayed by Morgan Freeman, he is the guiding hand of this story, a leader trying to figure out how to pull an entire benighted country out of its own shadow.
The film begins with Mandela's 1990 release from prison after 30 years, then shorthands his subsequent election in 1994 as the country's first post-apartheid president. He inherits a country still riven by racial strife: an angry, vengeance-bent black majority and a defensive, frightened white minority, out of power for the first time in its history.
Reconciliation and forgiveness are Mandela's watchwords, the keys to progress for a country that's been an international pariah for its policy of institutionalized racism. He realizes he needs something symbolic to pull the country together, something that has nothing to do with politics, government or race.
He finds it in the Springboks, the national rugby team. Long a favorite of the white minority, the team is about to host the rugby World Cup, though its own record is so poor that it wouldn't be invited to the tournament, were it not the home country. Continued...
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