(2009) On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman, appearing formal and stiff in a role perhaps only he was suited to fill), soon to be elected president of the Republic of South Africa, was released from the prison on Robben Island, after being incarcerated for 27 years. "He can win an election," declares a newspaper headline: "Can he run a country?"
In order to form "a rainbow nation," first he had to mend a rift between his party, the African National Congress, and black rebels to avoid a civil war before trying to reconcile blacks with whites nationally - "We look to the future now" - beginning with white South Africans within his own administration, encouraging them to remain in their government jobs to help him raise black aspirations without inflaming white fears.
As an example of his serious intentions, he merges experienced white SAS personnel with his own body guards. "Forgiveness starts here," he tells Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge), head of his security, who's distrustful of those who previously had been their mortal enemies: "It liberates the soul."
Part political history, part sports hysteria, director Clint Eastwood's dramatic film, from Anthony Peckham's screenplay, adapting John Carlin's book, Playing the Enemy, employs memorable monologues as inspiration for dialogue between races.
Following his making a personal appearance at a rugby game at which blacks cheered on the English team against their South African green-and-gold-clad Springboks, cherished by whites though their reputation for poor performance a year before hosting the World Cup is "a disgrace," bringing "shame upon the nation" (in the words of a TV commentator), Mandela against the advice of his chief of staff, Brenda Mazibuko (Adjoa Andoh), decides ("in this instance the people are wrong"") to oppose the unanimous approval of a motion by the National Sports Council to eliminate the Springbok's name, emblem, and colors.
Though the team with only one black player (Chester) represents the era of apartheid in the eyes of most black South Africans, Mandela comes before the council with an appeal to "restore the Springboks" for the whites because "we prevailed" - they are no longer the enemy, and "if we take that away, we lose them." "We have to be better than that," he admonishes members of the council, closing with: "You elected me your leader. Let me lead you now."
Painfully separated from his wife and children (when a security guard asks about his family, he answers: "I have a very large family, 42 million"), Mandela leads by setting an example for others to follow, such as giving one third of his salary to charity; he invites the Springboks' captain François Pienaar (Matt Damon) for afternoon tea and a chat, focusing on the philosophy of leadership: "How do we inspire everyone around us?" To build a nation, Mandela believes, "We must all exceed our own expectations."
As a national symbol - "One team, one country" - Mandela sets a task for the Springboks, in addition to preparing for the World Cup, to visit villages throughout the nation in an effort to develop an awareness of the players as individuals, a national connection and consensus of the team's representing all South Africans when they play before 63,000 rugby fans in Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg and one billion people worldwide.
After the Springboks earn their way into the finals, François takes his teammates to visit Robben Island where they tour the prison in which Mandela and his black comrades were held. Inside the cell where Mandela spent many years of confinement, François imagines hearing Mandela reading the words of British poet William Ernest Henley's 1875 poem "Invictus" (Latin for "invincible"), which his president had personally copied down the verses and handed to him: "I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul. / I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul."
When an aide exclaims to Mandela after the team's victory over Western Samoa in the semi-finals, "We have exceeded all expectations on and off the field!," Mandela replies: "It's not enough. Not now. Not this close." There is still the match against New Zealand.
Seeing this movie, for the first time ever I watched depictions of rugby matches - looking like soccer players in shorts and jerseys without padding or helmets, scrummaging, running with a ball (much like an American football), tackling, fighting, kicking goals through a pair of uprights (3 points each) - but I still have a limited understanding of the rules and strategy.
All in the family: Clint Eastwood's wife Dina Ruiz Eastwood is credited with co-writing lyrics (with Emile Welman) to the song "Invictus 9,000 Days," the music of which Clint composed with Michael Stevens, the latter being responsible for the movie's original score with Clint's son Kyle; Scott Eastwood, another son, plays as a member of the Springboks.
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