Clint Eastwood is a force of nature. His films aren’t perfect, but sometimes, as in the case of Invictus, they are damn good. Leaning on a brilliant script by Anthony Peckham (based on the book by John Carlin), Eastwood and co. tell the amazing true story of Nelson Mandela uniting the country of South Africa behind the Springboks, the national rugby team — a former symbol of apartheid.
Invictus is, to me, the ultimate sports movie, because the ‘big game’ is actually, legitimately, more than a game. I prefer, in truth, the first two thirds of the movie, where Peckham nimbly dramatizes the stakes for a whole nation through the stories of Mandela (Morgan Freeman), his chief bodyguard (Tony Kogoroge) and the captain of the Springboks (Matt Damon). The game itself wasn’t filmed with any great sense of suspense (the sequence with an airplane right before, however, was suspenseful as heck).
Freeman’s performance gives a good sense of the surpassing tolerance of Mandela, but he speaks in the same halting, stentorian manner in his intimate conversations as he does in his speeches. He will probably be nominated, but perhaps not deservedly. Just because you play a great man, doesn’t make it a great performance.
The movie references Mandela’s estrangement from his family, but doesn’t dig very deep there. Mandela is still more symbol than man. There are some poor performances by supporting players, mostly the Springboks, who I assume were played (with the exception of Damon) by real rugby players. But in the end, Invictus is forgiven via all the goodwill it generates.
Up in the Air is not an un-emotional movie, although it is mostly very funny. Invictus tugged my heartstrings and entertained me more, though, perhaps because the tight screenplay for Up in the Air, by Sheldon Turner and director Jason Reitman (based on the novel by Walter Kirn), is so classical in its construction that it is predictable.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a very good movie, and a crowd-pleaser. Clooney, as a charming-but-shallow corporate ax-man is perfectly cast, and he has great support — except from Jason Bateman, who seems to have stepped into the movie straight from the set of Smokin’ Aces and after knocking back six espressos. Vera Farmiga, in particular, is compelling, reprising the mysterious allure she pulled off so well in The Departed.
As a tale set in the days of economic depression, the movie could not be any more ‘on the money’ zeitgeist-wise. In fact, it may be the movie’s greatest achievement that it makes you care for the Clooney character, despite his excellence at his job. Up in the Air is probably director Jason Reitman’s best movie, but Thank You for Smoking and Juno surprised me more.