UPDATED: Reviews for Eastwood's 'Invictus' Begin to Tumble In

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.

  • mfan

    I didn't know there WAS a Rugby World Cup. The last two lines of the poem Invictus was quoted in the last season of Joss Whedon's, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  • Shawn

    So Lovely Bones and Invictus are not quite matching the hype that comes with being anointed early on as the "odds-on favorites" for award season glory. The reviews are solid, but nowhere near rapturous level. Make no mistake, I'm still going to watch them being the film lover that I am. I'm eager to see the early reviews for Nine next. With each one of these anointed prestige films falling short of the hype, it sure bodes well for a handful great films I saw during the Summer to really crash the party.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-1550-Seattle-Movie-Examiner Brian Zitzelman

    @Shawn - Not sure I'd agree with you on the party crashing. Last year The Reader, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader all received less than raves and got nominated, in a short field too.

    Also, on a side note, I did see that Glenn Kenny placed Invictus on his list of the decade's best films.

  • Johan

    The American pilots and crew that was killed and injured in the plane crash in china from the Zimbabwe cargo plan, all i can say is that i do not feel sorry for them at all what in the hell were they doing on that plan , they are flying illegal fire arms that is used to kill people in Zimbabwe tuff luck to you if you get killed you should not have been their in the first place

  • Johan

    To Clint Eastwood and all the bandwagon riders it is time that you all get a real job and move on with the old story of apartheid sh&te you are responsible for the whites to hate the black more and more with the shite you put forward taking in account that nelson Mandela was is and always be a killer and you can have him any time yes their was problems in south Africa but open your eyes and you will see that it came from the British that was here in south Africa what did any of your fools said about that? piss of now

  • Jimmy

    I still think this will get a best picture nomination, although I'm doubting Eastwood's chances. My current director predictions:

    Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
    Lee Daniels, Precious
    Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
    Peter Jackson, The Lovely Bones
    Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon

  • Ben

    Johan, I'm going to speak for all of us when we say that we've got no idea what you're talking about. It sounds like you're not looking forward to the movie(I am, for the record), but try and turn down the crazy next time.

  • Allan

    Can't wait to see Invictus!

  • mfan

    @Ben: I think Johan is just a bit frustrated. If you read a biography of Nelson Mandela instead of watching this movie, you'll find he was a bit of a gangster. I'm all for inspirational films. But conceptually, Ivcitus is about the same as a movie about how Al Capone helped widows and orphans. Most people will be unaware of this issue, however.

  • http://www.digitalfire.co.za Thomas

    Well I was one of the actors in the movie, and it was a superb experience. I played Hannes Strydom. Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon were legends, had time for everyone, knew everyones names no matter how small their part in the film and threw themselves into the project heart and soul. It's a movie about a great man who has understanidng and forgiveness in his heart, that and the healing of a nation, so people should go and watch this and think, rather than just fork out their dollars for another mindless transformer - vampire - planet eating monster - films.
    Read the poem, watch the film.
    mfan - likening Capone to Mandella and calling him "A bit of a gangster" is probably one of the most ill considered sentences I have ever read. Capone was a criminal engaging in activities for personal gain, Mandela was fighting for his and his peoples freedom against a brutal rascist regime.

  • http://www.digitalfire.co.za Thomas

    and Ben, right on about Johan.....

  • Ingrid Wheatley

    I think it is going to be a great movie. At least our actors have had a chance to act with some of the best actors in the world, as well as worked with one of the best - CLINT EASTWOOD.

  • Susan

    There you go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Susan

    Why do they not mention the SA actress who acted towards Matt Damon? She should also get some credit

  • Marilyn

    Does anyone know about the charities that Morgan Freeman is visiting in SA? He stated on the Jay Leno show last night that he was leaving for SA for the release of the movie and visiting various towns in SA. Seems like the release of this movie during the Holiday Season isn't just a Hollywood decision. Thanks Mr. Freeman and friends!