Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Though every new Clint Eastwood film is worth a gander, the quality control is not always the most stringent, so it's not terribly surprising that two good films, The Changeling and Grand Torino should be followed by one that's, well, more than a bit silly. Invictus is an adaptation of John Carlin's Playing the Enemy, the account of how Nelson Mandela put aside his well-founded prejudices toward the Springboks and got behind their surprise World Cup win in 1995. The film is very much a white person's wishful-thinking fantasy and it's hard to imagine Hollywood making a film about Bafana Bafana's victory in the Africa Cup of Nations a year later, despite the fact the footballers had more white players in their squad than the Springboks had black players in theirs. The rugby is likewise not too realistically filmed, and the matches take place in decidedly more balmy conditions than those who watched the World Cup in that South African winter will remember.

I also find it hard to believe that so many black South Africans shed their hostility towards the Springboks so quickly as appeared the case in the film. I would guess that the kindest emotion many of them expressed was rather indifference. Readers of this blog will know about my own indifference to rugby; I can't quite say I would always support Ireland's opponents in a match (though whenever Argentina dump them out of the World Cup, I always find it strangely amusing) but their Six Nations success last year left me as cold as a Chelsea-Man U League Cup semi-final would be likely to. If that's my reaction, I would find it strange that the majority of black South Africans could bring themselves to be so magnanimous to the sporting symbol of the hated apartheid.

But of course Mandela was exceptionally magnanimous, in this, as in many other cases in the years following his release. And, among his own electorate, he was largely alone. The film lacks the subtlety or the insight to really flesh out the historical stakes of Mandela's intervention; for all its good intentions it cannot avoid appearing to resolve more than four decades of apartheid by means of a unlikely sporting success. I'm reminded of a review I read of Roland Emmerich's Independence Day when it came out; the now forgotten critic said that though the world has been destroyed and civilization lays in tatters, the characters celebrate the conquest of the alien invader's like they've won a volleyball match.

But all this is a little unfair on Invictus. It's a likable enough film despite its manifest flaws. It is by Clint Eastwood after all, one of the more likable and admirable personalities in the US, never mind Hollywood.

Invictus - Official Trailer [HD]

It's as silly and enjoyable in its own way as this little masterpiece:

But neither is as good a film as this: