I’d seen this in theaters when it came out in 2009. Admittedly, at the time I had only recently come to enjoy rugby. It is on American television so little. I do recall seeing South Africa defeat England in the 2007 Rugby World Cup on an obscure channel on cable TV. Suddenly I was mad about the sport. Where football is brief bursts of intensity, rugby can be forty minutes at a time of grinding churning brutality punctuated with flashes of graceful footwork and passing. Perhaps because it is foreign it intrigues me so.
Invictus was the first movie I had ever seen that attempted to depict rugby on screen. The social/political and human aspect of the story was well done. President Nelson Mandela works feverishly to rebuild and heal a country nearly shattered by decades of apartheid. Springboks’ captain Francois Pienaar struggles to lead his team through training in preparation for the grueling Rugby World Cup. Both Morgan Freeman, as Mandela, and Matt Damon, as Pienaar, garnered Academy Award nominations for their performances. However, where the film falls flat is in the depiction of the rugby. Most American audiences would not be able to follow the action or know the rules of the game. It feels as if the scenes following the action on the field fall flat. Few sports films can capture the intensity and struggle of the moment… especially when the audience knows the outcome: the protagonists will be successful. Hoosiers maintains this because the audience does not know the outcome. While we suspect they will win, no one outside their little town will much care. In Invictus the pressure of 43 million South Africans tells the viewer this team will win the World Cup. Despite this shortcoming Clint Eastwood’s film is an enjoyable two hours that captures the feeling of the time more than the rugby.