SA heroism on silver screen

2009-12-14 00:00

IT’S slightly surreal watching an event in your country’s history unfold on the silver screen, but what director Clint Eastwood has done so brilliantly in Invictus is capture the emotion of the Springboks winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and the events that led up to the moment that Nelson Mandela placed the golden trophy in Francois Pienaar’s hands.

The film hasn’t been overly dramatised. Even the filmmakers acknowledge that Hollywood would have been hard-pressed to come up with a story that offers cinema-goers underdogs who win the day a triumph of the spirit and Madiba in one package.

And I was extremely impressed by the attention to detail. Everything from the uniforms worn by the Springboks to the rugby sequences has been done accurately, and actual footage from the World Cup and news footage from the early 1990s has been integrated into the finished product.

Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Mandela is also outstanding. He has captured the great man’s pre­sence, charm and the rhythm and cadence of his voice, which made it easy to forgive his occasional lapses in accent.

I enjoy watching him act and was particularly moved by one scene in which Mandela, by then estranged from his wife, gets out of his bed and pulls the covers straight at the presidential residence. It was a subtle reminder that, for much of his life, he was imprisoned and alone.

Matt Damon, who plays Springbok captain Pienaar, also does a great job. With mostly South African co-stars, he really had to work hard at getting his accent right — something he managed to do. He also managed to pull off the physical requirements of the role and is as muscular as any rugby player I’ve ever seen.

None of that matters, however, in my favourite and possibly the most poignant scene in the film — when Pienaar visits Mandela’s cell on Robben Island and is struck by how small the space is. He closes the cell door and stretches out his arms before looking down and seeing the blankets that made up the former president’s bed. It’s a subtle performance, but one which leaves a deep impression.

There are also great perfor­mances from the South African actors playing Mandela’s personal security team. In one scene, the president’s bodyguards, Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge) and Linga Moonsamy (Patrick Mofokeng), come face to face with former members of the Special Branch, Hendrick Booyens (Matt Stern) and Etienne Feyder (Julian Lewis Jones), who have been assigned to keep Mandela safe, and it’s a little like watching dogs with their hackles up as the former adversaries size each other up.

Invictus isn’t flawless — there are indeed a few very cheesy moments — but it’s one of those films you simply have to see. World Cup winners Mark Andrews and André Joubert gave it a thumbs up at the premiere in Durban last week, and I’m sure you will too. ****

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