UPDATED: Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere has posted his review as well. His thoughts are listed at the bottom of this post.
I will be seeing Clint Eastwood's Invictus on December 7, but it has already started screening in New York and Los Angeles and while many critics are being told to hold their tongue a few have been allowed to let the cat out of the bag.
The film is described as the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team (Damon) to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.
Now let's see what folks had to say.
David Ansen at Newsweek was the first to open the lid on the film saying:
Invictus is not a biopic; nor does it take us deep inside any of its characters-Eastwood views Mandela from a respectful middle distance. It's about strategic inspiration. We witness a politician at the top of his game: Freeman's wily Mandela is a master of charm and soft-spoken gravitas. Anthony Peckham's sturdy, functional screenplay, based on John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy," can be a bit on the nose (and the message songs Eastwood adds are overkill). Yet the lapses fade in the face of such a soul-stirring story-one that would be hard to believe if it were fiction. The wonder of Invictus is that it actually went down this way.
Todd McCarthy at Variety seems to have enjoyed the execution but may be a bit moderate on the material, even though it's actually quite hard to judge what his real opinion is in a rather safe review if I've ever read one:
"Invictus" is a very good story very well told. Shortly after Nelson Mandela emerged from 27 years in prison and became president of South Africa in 1994, he seized upon using a rugby World Cup the following year as an opportunity to rally the entire nation -- blacks and whites -- behind the far-fetched prospect of the home team winning it all. Inspirational on the face of it, Clint Eastwood's film has a predictable trajectory, but every scene brims with surprising details that accumulate into a rich fabric of history, cultural impressions and emotion...
Directed by Eastwood with straightforward confidence, the film is marbled with innumerable instances of Mandela disarming his presumed opponents while giving pause to those among his natural constituency who might be looking for some payback rather than intelligent restraint. Freeman, a beautiful fit for the part even if he doesn't go all the way with the accent, takes a little while to shake off the man's saintlike image, and admittedly, the role of such a hallowed contemporary figure does not invite too much complexity, inner exploration or actorly elaboration. That said, Freeman is a constant delight; gradually, one comes to grasp Mandela's political calculations, certitudes and risks, the troubled personal life he keeps mostly out of sight, and his extraordinary talent for bringing people around to his point of view.
Kirk Honeycutt at The Hollywood Reporter calls it "overly timid" but adds "it will be a pleasure for [audiences] to encounter a movie that's actually about something."
The downside here is a certain trepidation on the filmmakers' part to dig very deeply into what is still a politically sensitive situation. Then too, the real-life protagonists are very much alive and one an iconic figure. That's always a problem for any film that wants to deal with such personalities as flesh-and-blood characters.
So this is a conventional film that takes the measure of a country's emotional temperature but not its individual citizens. The game scenes are skillfully done -- the sound of the body hits lets you know why rugby is an orthopedist's delight. CGI shots and other effects seamlessly fill the stands with thousands and convert contemporary South African locations back 14 years.
Pamela Ezell writing for The Huffington Post headlined her review with "Invictus Translation: Obama Needs Rugby
" and wrote:
On a scale of one to 10, one being "don't see," and 10 being "go see, even if you have to hire a sitter," I'd say, Invictus is a six: add it to your Netflix queue or watch it on pay-per-view. Those lucky enough to be on a trans-Atlantic flight next year will probably have a chance to see Invictus on the plane, since its political theme and World Cup rugby depictions will undoubtedly make the film more popular abroad than it is here.
Jeff Wells is the last to add his thoughts saying:
Invictus is about an "important" subject -- one we should think about and perhaps learn from -- but it mainly just ambles along. It kinda gets off the ground at the end, but rousing sports-movie finales don't travel like they used to because we've seen them so damn often. You can't just have the good-guy team win and show everybody cheering. That's not enough any more.
This is one reason why Invictus doesn't really go "wow" or "kaboom." It's fine and very agreeable in some respects. Anyone who writes in and says "You're wrong" or "I loved it!" will not get put down in this corner. But there's no getting around the fact (and it pains me to say this, being a major fan of Unforgiven, Play Misty For Me, High Plains Drifter, Breezy, Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino) that Invictus is second-tier Eastwood.
For more on Invictus click here. The film hits theaters on December 11.