Invictus: No, Matt Damon Doesn’t Play Nelson Mandela

A rosy tale of racial reconciliation neatly wrapped in a triumphalist sports movie (and blessedly free of spurious Obama parallels), Clint Eastwood's new movie tells how freshly elected South African President Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman in a subtly crafted performance that blends Mandela's physical fragility with his easy charm and cerebral wit), with help from Afrikaner rugby-team captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon, gym-pumped into Michelin Man and oozing fair play), turned a World Cup match into a moment of rainbow solidarity. Adapted by South African writer Anthony Peckham from a book by former London Independent journalist John Carlin, Invictus is stately, handsomely mounted, attentive to detail, and relentlessly conventional. As a portrait of a hero, the movie effortlessly brings a lump to the throat; as history, it's borderline daft and selective to the point of distortion. You can't shoehorn a nation's history into a single movie, but Peckham's dialogue, stuffed with strenuously underlined exposition, blazes an indecently fast trail from mutual suspicion to interracial love and understanding, expunged of the inconvenient Winnie Mandela and reducing the ANC to thuggish ideologues. That Mandela is a great man is beyond dispute—but that's no excuse to position him in a thoroughly Great Man theory of history, or into the mold of Eastwood's courtly masculinity.

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