Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Invictus - The Film

When the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup on home turf, way back on 24 June 1995, a work- colleague and I followed the game while sitting miles away in a hotel in Quebec, Canada. I cannot recall the exact time, but it was early in the morning, and all the pubs were closed at that time. Back then we still joked about the game and referred to it as the clash between the “All-Whites” and the “All-Blacks”. (For those who don’t know this, the All Blacks were the New Zealand chaps).

Everyone spoke French, but we managed to convince one of the managers in the hotel, who understood a little English, that we had a very important International match to watch, but that our telly in the hotel room only had local channels. The posh pub in the hotel featured a large-screen Satellite-TV, but the place was closed. The significance of this match held height due to the fact the Springboks were prohibited from competing in the first two World Cups in 1987 and 1991 due to anti-apartheid boycotts.

The manager must have sensed our urgency, because in record time he had the pub opened, the telly tuned to the correct sports-channel, and a waiter at our service. We were the only two people in the entire pub, drinking beer and cheering “The Bokke”. The odd hotel guest who sneaked in to see what all the commotion was about, must have thought that we’d either lost our minds, or that we were still partying from the previous night, and hadn’t left the pub since then.

This match took place slightly more than a year after the historical 1994 Elections in South Africa, and the mood among most whites during that time was rather gloomy. (Nothing has changed much since then!) The question on most people’s minds were, --- “should we stay or should we leave?” Obviously, I was also feeling a little depressed and uncertain about my future in my home country, but when the Springboks defeated the All Blacks 15-12, a rather close call, I couldn’t wait to get back home to my friends and family. Although I was far away in Canada at the time, among strangers we didn’t even know who Mandela was, the 1995 victory boosted my pride in my country and my people. I can recall flying back home about three days later, feeling optimistic that everything was going to work out just fine.

Well, much has happened since then. My confidence in the leaders of my country, and my determination to continue believing that everything is going to be just fine, keeps bouncing up and down like a pingpong ball.

In my eyes, Nelson Mandela will always remain a hypocrite and a fraud, and I’m not going to even apologise for feeling this way. It’s a personal thing, which I’d rather not elaborate on too much, --- except to say that I don’t think he deserved the Noble Peace Prize. Such prizes should NOT be given to terrorists who kill innocent people – full stop! An excellent article concerning this whole issue can be found here.

Nelson Mandela himself spoke of listening to Springbok games on the radio during his long incarceration on Robben Island, and admitted that he never supported the Springboks. In fact he hated the all-white team with a passion! His favourite sports were boxing and soccer. The white man really took good care of him in prison, don’t you think? If the roles were reversed and Mandela was a white man, do you think he would have survived prison? There’s not a chance!

The secret 16th player…

The Springboks later attributed their victory in that historic final 1995 match to the secret 16th player. Nelson Mandela turned up in the dressing room in the minutes before the match, wearing a Springbok shirt with the number of the captain, Francois Pienaar, on his back. He told the team that he was proud of them. Apparently this moved Pienaar near to tears, and the cameras revealed that Pienaar was so overcome that he was hardly able to sing the national anthem before the match began.

With the risk of sounding pessimistic, I very much doubt that it was Mandela’s idea to take this strategic approach. A man of that age does not change his views so suddenly, without being counselled and pushed by other forces, --- must likely those who had substantial investments in South Africa. The Springbok captain was also schooled well by those operating behind the scenes. Seconds after the final whistle blew Pienaar, still breathless, was on the touchline for the post-victory live television interview.

"You had great support from 65,000 South Africans here today, the interviewer said, referring to the capacity of the packed stadium.

Without a moment's hesitation, Pienaar said: "No. We had the support of 43 million South Africans today."

In August 2008, John Carlin published a book about this momentous sporting occasion, and called it, “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation”. Clint Eastwood read the book and then jumped on his horse, and decided he was going to be the first to make a blockbuster movie out of this. The movie, simply called “Invictus” will be available in South Africa on 11 December 2009. The free man Mandela, is played by Morgan Freeman.

Invictus -- Film Review
By Kirk Honeycutt, 27 November, 2009

Bottom Line: A temperate, evenhanded perhaps overly timid film about an intemperate time in South Africa.

Nothing speaks so dramatically about Clint Eastwood's recent and remarkable burst of creativity as a director of awards-worthy films than the appearance of "Invictus," a historical drama that few if any filmmakers could have launched within the studio system. Here is a movie about Nelson Mandela, South Africa after apartheid and, of all things, the sport of rugby. None is high on any list of topics that studio suits crave, which tend more toward vampires and superheroes. Even the title -- that of a Victoria-era poem -- is obscure.

When released during a December storm of Oscar contenders, "Invictus" will pull its audience from adventurous, older moviegoers. Even the presence of Matt Damon, along with Morgan Freeman, will bring in only a small number of younger people. But for those who do buy tickets, it will be a pleasure for them to encounter a movie that's actually about something.

The downside here is a certain trepidation on the filmmakers' part to dig very deeply into what is still a politically sensitive situation. Then too, the real-life protagonists are very much alive and one an iconic figure. That's always a problem for any film that wants to deal with such personalities as flesh-and-blood characters.

The opening scene brilliant sets the stage. Released from prison on February 11, 1990 after 27 years, Mandela (Freeman) travels in a motorcade that passes between two fenced sports fields. On one, white youths in spiffy uniforms play rugby. On the other pitch, black kids kick a soccer ball. The black kids rush to the fence while the white kids' coach tells his charges to mark the day when their country went to the dogs.

At once, Eastwood and South African writer Anthony Peckham deliver a metaphor for a nation divided along racial lines and a hint that sports will be one of Mandela's strategies for bringing South Africans together.

Four years later, Mandela is the country's first black president. Many white citizens fear black rule just as many black citizens look to Mandela for revenge. It's a prescription for social instability and political disaster.

Mandela hits upon an ambitious plan to use the national rugby team, the Springboks -- long an embodiment of white-supremacist rule -- to grip the new South Africa as the team prepares to host the 1995 World Cup. So he begins to woo its Afrikaner captain, Francois Pienaar (Damon), to his cause.

In the beginning, the Springboks are portrayed as the rugby equivalent of the Bad News Bears. But a string of improbable wins brings them to the finals against a New Zealand team that is an overwhelming favorite.

The film, based upon the book "Playing the Enemy" by John Carlin, has an understandably narrow focus of 1995 South Africa. Mandela is seen only in the context of a sudden rugby convert. He signs papers and greets international delegations between matches. Francois is glimpsed with a family and wife --or girlfriend, even this is unclear -- but he exists solely to play his sport.

The film enters neither of their lives. It's a film about a nation's psyche, not its individuals. Where you would love a vigorous portrayal of two larger-than-life personalities, the film tiptoes through polite scenes where everyone speaks and acts with political correctness.

Likewise, the actors stick close to the surface. Freeman gives you a folksy yet sagacious leader. He ambles rather than walks and peers at people with sly wisdom gleaming in his eyes. He doesn't try to plumb the depths of a one-time rebel or a man struggling to keep both his nation and family together. Indeed the film writes his former wife, Winnie, out of the picture altogether and a daughter is seen glaring at him or the TV whenever rugby gets mentioned. Why is she so angry?

Damon has taken the flabby dough-boy body from "The Informant!" and chiseled it into pure muscle. He looks like a rugby player. What he thinks about apartheid or Mandela or anything else you never learn. He certainly respects the nation's president but their relationship is largely ceremonial.

The film's title stems from a short poem by the British poet William Ernest Henley, first published in 1875, that Mandela often recited to himself while imprisoned on Robben Island. The key final lines are: "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." Francois finds meaning here too as he seeks to lead his team to victory.

So this is a conventional film that takes the measure of a country's emotional temperature but not its individual citizens. The game scenes are skillfully done -- the sound of the body hits lets you know why rugby is an orthopedist's delight. CGI shots and other effects seamlessly fill the stands with thousands and convert contemporary South African locations back 14 years.

The film's money shots come at the end when blacks and whites cheer and embrace. For once a sports victory is something more than just another win. What's missing though is a human relationship to carry you through to this end. Mandela maintains convivial, even humorous relationships with all his staff and advisors and Francois seems to have a loving family -- and a black maid who shrewdly watches everything in the household.

Somewhere here, even among the president's bodyguards who are portrayed in surprising detail, there may have been a few people who could carry the emotional ball, so to speak. As it is, we applaud the final game but must leave the cheering to the on-screen fans.

Opens: Dec. 11 (Warner Bros.)
Production companies: Warner Bros.
Pictures in association with Spyglass Entertainment, presents a Revelations Entertainment/Mace Neufeld and Malpaso production

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Langley Kirkwood, Grant Roberts Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Anthony Peckham
Based on the book by: John Carlin
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Lori McCreary, Mace Neufeld
Executive producers: Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Morgan Freeman, Tim Moore

Director of photography: Tom Stern

Production designer: James J. Murakami

Music: Michael Stevens, Kyle Eastwood
Costume designer: Deborah Hopper

Editor: Joel Cox, Gary D. Roach
Rated PG-13, 132 minutes

Film Review Source:

Click here to view the TRAILER

See also:
The game which united a country, by Allan Little - BBC News

The review of this movie at http://www.christianaction.org.za/articles/Invictus%20Idolatry.htm

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Recommended Reading:

Rucking and Rolling: 60 Years of International Rugby Union

Contributor: Clive Woodward
ISBN: 9781847322791
Publication date: May 2009
Length: 280mm
Width: 230mm
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 150 colour & b/w photographs

Available from Amazon.com (International) or Kalahari.net (South Africa)


Anonymous said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Nelson Mandela was and is not a racist.

He was very proud of the Rugby team and 1995 when the Rugby was won by SA. was one of his happiest days.

I know because I am a friend of his.

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Hi Anonymous person – whoever you are!

I don’t argue that Nelson Mandela was NOT proud at that moment. Who wouldn’t be?

BUT, he was never a faithful supporter of that Rugby Team for many years before that time. My facts in this article are authentic and I’m sure that even Mandela will agree!

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Hollywood gets it wrong!

The version of Nelson Mandela’s relationship to the Springbok rugby team and François Pienaar as portrayed in the Hollywood film Invictus is not accurate, according to Paul Ackford. The link >> Hollywood gets it wrong

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Invictus movie mistakes, goofs and bloopers

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