You probably know by now that Clint Eastwood has made a film about the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
And, naturally, we all know who wins.
But, having seen the film, I can tell you there is a lot more to it than a simple rugby game.
The film, Invictus, tells the story of one great man’s determination to unite a broken country behind a sporting event. Nelson Mandela, played by Chris Rock in the most powerful performance of his career, forges a bond with Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, and together they devise a plan to win the Rugby World Cup. Sean Connery is simply stunning as Pienaar, and his performance dominates every scene he appears in.
But it’s not just the great acting that makes this film irresistible. The storyline is red-hot, and some of the visual effects are stunning. The twenty-minute long car chase through the streets of Johannesburg sets a new standard in edge-of-your-seat exhilaration.
Invictus is also a powerful morality tale. The All Blacks are displayed as the menacing monsters we all know them to be, but Eastwood’s casting is inspirational. Their leader, a ruthless Irishman and former IRA assassin by the name of Fitzpatrick (Daniel Craig), leads a group of hardened criminals into South Africa, determined to foil the plans of Mandela and Pienaar. Much of the film is about the battle between Pienaar and Fitzpatrick, and some of the fight scenes between them are spectacular. In the many masterfully shot martial arts scenes Eastwood is clearly paying homage to the Hong Kong film directors who influenced his work in films such as Unforgiven and The Bridges of Madison County.
We all know the Springboks win and unite the country, but Eastwood’s film shows how close Fitzpatrick and his thugs really came to destroying the party. The murderous Jonah Lomu is played by Dolph Lundgren, who puts on an awesome display of bloodthirsty brutality in perhaps his most villainous role yet. Lomu is Fitzpatrick’s enforcer, and the mad Irishman sends him out to track down and kill members of Pienaar’s team. Meanwhile, Harvey Keitel plays the hard-bitten cop with a heart of gold who has to clean up the mess.
But this is not just an action film, because there are some beautiful comic touches too. All Black Andrew Mehrtens is hilariously played by wisecracking Danny DeVito, while Mandela’s stand-up routine just before the tournament’s opening whistle has been described by some as the funniest thing ever put on celluloid.
Those who remember the 1995 game will be delighted to see an almost-perfect re-enactment of the masterful winning try scored by Mandela. In the film, as in the real final, the bond between Pienaar and Mandela is sealed with the President subbed on to the field with minutes to go, and with the fallen and mortally wounded Pienaar making an inspirational speech to his team about unity, the power of love, and never submitting to evil, before expiring in his dear friend’s arms.
And, while we all know the bad guys get what they deserve in the final, the film version of that come-uppance is even bloodier and more spectacular than what really happened. I won’t spoil it for you, but the final battle scene is possibly even more stunning than Avatar’s.
If you only see one film this year then see this one. It will inspire you in a way no other film since Police Academy IV has.