"Invictus," opens with the image of a road dividing the well groomed, green rugby field for the white African team and the rough, dirt lot where black African children play. Coming down the road is the motorcade of newly elected President Nelson Mandela.
This is a movie about inspiration. President Mandela's (Morgan Freeman) resolve to unite the nation without punishing his suppressors after serving twenty-seven years as a political prisoner is indeed inspiring. Through his example, he teaches his country how to forgive.
Knowing that his county is still racially divided in the wake of apartheid, the President enlists the help of the national rugby Team Captain (Matt Damon in his most buff and tan) to unite the country with the universal language of sports. Africa is hosting the Rugby World Cup Championship and he knows that the eyes of the world are on them. His first task is to inspire the team to overcome their losing streak and win the championship. But the bigger challenge is to inspire his hostile countrymen to rally around the mostly white team.
Unfortunately, the sports section of the movie isn't as moving as it could have been and therefore less inspiring. President Mandela gives the Team Captain the poem, "Invictus" for inspiration. (Mandela got strength from this poem to survive those hard years in prison.) The Team Captain surprises his players with a visit to Mandela's tiny prison cell. But an opportunity is lost when he doesn't share the poem with his team. The audience hears the poem as a voice over. (My frustration increased when I couldn't make out a few of the words.) Here it is:
by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Perhaps the screenwriter was trying to keep to the true story. In sports stories there is always the problem of creating suspense when we know who will win. And this definitely is a problem here. Apparently, the game was not an emotional roller coaster. Instead the writer uses the possibility of an assassination to create tension. I'm not saying there are no inspiring moments. There are several. It's just not as moving as it could have been. (I wonder if director Clint Eastwood was trying to avoid having the movie called sappy...?) It is still a three, maybe three and a half, star movie. Who wouldn't root for Morgan Freeman in a strong (however tall) portrayal of Nelson Mandela?