Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mokofeng, Matt Stern, Julian Lewis Jones, Adjoa Andoh
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: John Carlin (Book), Anthony Peckham (Screenplay)
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 133 min
Release Date: 12/11/2009 (Theatrical) 5/18/2010 (Blu-Ray)
Invictus tells the story of a key time in the life of one of modern history's most iconic figures - Nelson Mandela. After serving 27 years in prison, Mandela was released from South Africa's Robben Island prison in 1990 - within four years apartheid was officially abolished and Mandela was elected the first black South African president. Invictus starts with Mandela's first day in office - where Mandela (Freeman) must be the first to try and mend the rift separating white and black South Africans. Mandela requests the capital building staff to stay - in an unprecedented act of reconciliation - he wants nothing more than to stop the cycle of hate he himself was a victim of.
It is at this same time that Mandela learns that the national sports executive is about to make a crucial vote - whether to abolish another icon of white South Africa - the Springbok's - South Africa's national rugby team whose name, logo and colors are synonymous with white rule. Mandela recognizes that no component of white South African culture is more important to their identity than Rugby - and he realizes he must preserve the Springboks if he is to stop the further alienation of the already disenfranchised whites. Mandela personally goes to the executive after they have unanimously voted to abolish the Springbok's with one goal in mind - he must convince them to repeal their vote if he is to have any hope of reconciliation.
For decades black South Africans have cheered for any team other than the Springboks - their name and what they stand for is synonymous with Apartheid. If he is to save the team - and the country, Mandela must make the national Rugby team equally important to all South Africans - regardless of race. To do this, Mandela hopes to take advantage of the Rugby World Cup that South Africa is hosting in 1995. Not only must the Springboks enter the World Cup and compete - for Mandela to succeed they must win. To accomplish this goal Mandela enlists the help of Francois Pienaar the captain of the Sprinboks rugby team. He invites Pienaar over for tea - and explains why the Springboks must win making the stakes painfully clear. The Springboks must go from a prideful team with little success on the international stage to world champions in one year.
Invictus chronicles the journey of both the Sprinboks and Madiba (Nelson Mandela) over the year leading up to the World Cup. It tells the story of a nation divided, of a fractured people who are united by a sports team and the charisma and strength of a great leader.
Invictus is rated PG-13, this is primarily for the intense rugby sequences which may appear violent. There are two incidences of the "F" word and a few minor profanities.
Invictus comes to Blu-Ray with a 1080p VC-1 encode that is remarkably faithful to the source. In uncharacteristic fashion for Warner, grain and fine detail are perfectly preserved and the result is a natural, extremely film-like appearance.
Stylistically this is a very interesting film. The opening sequence is a 4x3 "fake" TV showing the newscasts of Mandela's actual release modified with CG to have freeman and other actors in the shots. This gives a feel of authenticity which I found very pleasing. Now - on to the film itself. Invictus was filmed on 35mm film using Panavision lenses and cameras in scope 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Technicolor labs produced the film prints as well as the 2K digital intermediate. The film has a noticeable grain structure (I know, I know - a Warner film CAN have grain, crazy right?) that is both consistent and visible. Skin tones are natural with fine textural detail preserved very nicely - the majority of the film does have a slightly elevated contrast to it which conveys the feel of South African summer quite accurately but should not be confused with washed out colors. A result of this contrast increase is that blacks aren't quite as deep and inky as some viewers will be used to - but this doesn't detract from the visual quality of the release. This is a very carefully filmed movie and it is refreshing to see Warner use a similar degree of care for the digital transfer to Blu-Ray.
Great care was taken to film all rugby sequences in this film using real club rugby players and the result is some excellent camera work that really adds a visceral touch to the impact of each ruck and conveys the strain of the scrum. The quality of the video in this release truly is identical to the version I saw in cinemas. No visible DNR or other digital voodoo has been used to take an authenically film-like print and clean it up for the Blu-Ray which is commendable. This is of course primarily a film that tells a story and not a feast for the eyes - and this is achieved very well. The video never steals attention from the undercurrent of the story and given the similarity to the theatrical presentation this is a nice change of pace from recent Warner releases and worth a look.
This is a film where the music and the sound effects of the rugby matches are the stars. The LFE channel is used more potently in a few rugby sequences but predominantly remains subdued throughout the movie and serves only to reinforce the sound field. Dialogue is clear and easily heard, though there are a few scenes where the mix is a little strange. A prime example is in several of the scenes where an actor is watching TV - in the theater the TV's sound was clear and easily heard, while I found that this clarity would fade in and out when playing back this disc. This isn't the sort of movie meant to showcase your audio system, however it is a capable mix. The surrounds are engaged for many sequences with a crowd present and add a nice ambiance to the rugby matches. While the mix is not spectacular, it is an uplifting and engaging cinematic experience all the same.
The extras on this disc are extremely enjoyable - and for a nice change of pace the majority are in high definition. The nature of this films story allows for the extra features to be especially meaningful - as they include real footage of Nelson Mandela meeting Morgan Freeman and a great insight into the film making process.
Vision, Courage, and Honor — Walk with Clint Eastwood in this Picture in Picture process to discover what attracted him to this story and how he brought it to life on film.
Told through the words of those who lived it and complemented with anecdotes from the cast and filmmakers, this Blu-ray exclusive is an unforgettable experience for fans of rugby, history and Clint Eastwood.
Behind the Story:
Mandela Meets Morgan (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:28.10) — This title is deceiving, as this extra includes a lot of info about the making of the film including interviews with the author of the book, the screenwriter, and of course footage of Mr. Mandela himself. We also get to learn about Matt meeting Francois Pienaar and many of the other people behind the scenes such as Chester Williams himself coaching the rugby players.
Matt Damon Plays Rugby (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:06.49) — Follows Matt Damon's training as he learns to play Rugby and act the part of a South African.http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=4143&w=l
The Eastwood Factor (1.33:1; 480i/60; 0:22.23) — Clint Eastwood looks back at his films and career.
Invictus Music Trailer (2.35:1; 1080p/24)
Digital Copy — Standard definition copy of the movie for transfer to a Mac/PC or iTunes/Windows Media compatible device.
This film holds a unique meaning to me as a South African expatriate and life long Rugby player. Many of the poignant moments in the film had very real meaning for me when they first happened 15 years ago and the film did a wonderful job of bringing me back to those momentous days. The rugby sequences of the film are remarkably accurate given how little Eastwood knowws about the sport, largely I believe due to his decision to have Chester Williams act as a consultant for these scenes. Who better to choreograph the film than someone who actually played in these games.
The story behind invictus is one of triumph, unity, and of overcoming obstacles. Unlike most sports movies this film is uplifting without contrived plot elements, we don't have a ragtag band of underachievers becoming champions, and since it is based on a true story there is a genuine sense of triumph when South Africa wins. This is an honest and very real look at real events. Freeman and Damon's performances are both excellent and demonstrate a very nuanced grasp of the characters they portrayed, from accents to mannerisms they truly did become their characters. Damon's performance in Invictus actually garnered him a nominiation for an Academy Award (Best Actor In A Supporting Role).
South Africa spent the better part of thirty years as a deeply shrouded and racist country whilst Apartheid was still in effect, growing up in this nation I am acutely aware of how important Mandela's election and subsequent actions were to black and white South Africans alike. Many critics have taken aim at the story because of the "overstated importance of rugby" - but it is not Hollywood exaggeration when Mandela states "we will lose them" referencing the outcome of taking rugby from white South Africans - imagine if football teams were all abolished, renamed and moved overnight. Rugby was the singular most powerful cultural icon that white South Africa still posessed and it was a stroke of genius that Nelson Mandela used this sport as a catalyst to start the unification of a broken nation.
Whether you are a fan of sports movies or not, I urge you to watch this movie. Even if you watch simply to have a better grasp of the South African people and culture - this film will leave you walking away with something. Eastwood may have played it safe when making this film - he didn't take the risks he did during Gran Torino, or other previous films but he did tell an important story with accuracy and reverence, and in the process created a thoroughly enjoyable cinematic experience. Recommended.