***/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B-
starring Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng
screenplay by Anthony Peckham, based on the book Playing the Enemy by John Carlin
directed by Clint Eastwood
by Walter Chaw During an awards season seemingly devoted to surveying the racial divide, Clint Eastwood's Invictus lands a glancing blow as a Reconciliation sports melodrama that avoids the hysterical outburst even as it fails to hit one out of the park. Of the two, I think I'd rather the former. Expecting a (more) self-important Hoosiers, I was pleasantly surprised by Eastwood's leisurely, cocksure, tempered-by-age stroll through the first days post-Apartheid as Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman, finally playing Abraham Lincoln) is tasked with the near-impossible job of suturing a nation coming out from under a long Plantation nightmare without his administration becoming exactly what the minority Afrikaner fears. It locates sports as one quick avenue to the heart of the lowest common denominator (just as the existence of Invictus locates film as another), and it fires dual salvos at its audience by first being a sports underdog uplift flick without much sports or uplift, then in not deigning to explain the fundamentals of rugby to its American audience, instead launching a quick jab at America's reluctance to engage the worlds' pastimes (rugby and soccer, notably). What it really does for the race conversation is allow Eastwood the opportunity to at last feature Freeman in a movie designed around him as opposed to having him--as he did in Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven--function as a comparative component against which the white protagonist is memorialized and measured. Better late than never.