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STUDIO: Warner Brothers
RUNNING TIME: 133 minutes
• Maximum Movie Mode
• DVD Copy
• Digital Copy
Rugby is popular in places that aren’t America. Honestly, all I thought they knew was genocide and AIDS.
Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Matt Stern and others
Invictus should’ve been amazing Oscar bait. Sadly, it seems that most of Eastwood’s voters in the Academy had died. The film focuses on the Rugby World Cup of 1995 and Mandela’s efforts to bring the country together. South Africa’s Springboks are scheduled to play against New Zealand’s finest. This is all fair and good, but Eastwood tries to cram in extra subplots about Mandela’s bodyguards and the men working for his new government. Everything’s rather predictable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the sports action.
Clint Eastwood has had three eras in his career. The young rookie actor that learned the ropes of the trade and palled around with Italian influence and Old Hollywood machismo. Then, there was the second era where he founded Malpaso. Developing carefully selected projects and helming the first truly great films of his career. The third era was the Elder Professional that began with his Best Director Oscar for Unforgiven. The Oscar win has done strange things to directors and Eastwood was no exception. When Spielberg won his little gold guy, he couldn’t make Nazis into punching fodder for Indiana Jones. When Ron Howard won his Oscar, he realized that a career of making boring films can be rewarded by a jury of his peers.
When Eastwood won his first Oscar, he seemed to immediately begin a path to his second Oscar and his hope for more. The films became safer and the subject matter was the kind of material that used to entertain a Redford, a Howard or even Andrew Davis. The grit of the younger to middle-age Eastwood was traded in for the wit and wisdom of a man that had aged before our eyes. By the time that Million Dollar Baby rolled around, the Man with No Name persona had died. Hell, I’d kill for the passion of a Bronco Billy by this point. This is safe filmmaking and it doesn’t do anyone favors.
Matt Damon offers up something interesting as Francois Pienaar, but is it that much different than any other sports film? Morgan Freeman does his best Rich Little as Nelson Mandela, but it’s just Freeman playing Mandela. Then, there’s the gob of foreigners smacked in between scenes to keep the camera busy when Eastwood is not focused on an American. The fanatic international following of soccer and rugby is lost upon America. Honestly, you’re never going to get the same wide appeal whether it be on the field or on the silver screen. So, what was Eastwood trying to accomplish here? Does a sports movie have a point, if there are no strong characters or sports action?
Invictus could’ve been directed by anyone and is evident in Eastwood’s lackluster approach. There was a period where he fell into that safe trench that produced films like True Crime, Space Cowboys and Blood Work. Eastwood has an excellent working relationship with his technical crew, but the cinematography and editing are so lazy that no tension is created. A commercial flight buzzes the stadium and it’s boring. Morgan Freeman has to play an older Mandela who is prone to physical ailment, but his magical recovery seems so fake. Freeman has become another one of those Eastwood crutches, but that’s a complaint for next time.
The film runs nearly two hours and I’m hard pressed to remember anything that special about the South Africa that Eastwood captured. Blomkamp made the area come to life with mech-suits and aliens in District 9, but Eastwood can’t find the passion of the land in a sports drama? Whether it’s the goal that wins the day or Wikus helping his friends, there’s bullshit fantasy to be had for all. One is not harder than the other, when you are competent enough to blend what works in cinema grammar to construct a solid narrative.
D.W. Griffith created the basics for such an approach near the start of the 20th Century, yet the lack of cinema/film grammar often leads to the death of focus in films today. I’ve spent a great deal of time talking about Invictus with Eastwood fans and they want to bring up what the film could’ve been without the sports angle. Well, let’s dissect that. If you take the 1995 Rugby World Cup out of the film, then we’re focusing on Mandela having a hard time leading a new South African government. That’s great material and it could’ve made a great film. But, how is it different? The same logic is where the Rugby action falls apart, as Matt Damon shows up to function as the magical white boy to make Mandela’s dreams come true.
Invictus is such a frustrating film to revisit, as repeat screenings show how badly the film collapses under the careful eye. Nothing is developed and nothing is asked of the viewer. You are never asked to identify with someone and the events/sports play always seems to be happening away from your emotional interest. Such a disconnect is shameful for a master director like Eastwood to create. It shows a lack of understanding of the material and the inability/unwillingness to commit to a project that falls outside of their safe zone.
Some people might bring up the Oscar nominations for acting as some sort of counterpoint. Well, Damon and Mandela handled the material well and they tried to raise the film to better heights. It’s just that you almost get an Oscar nomination for just being a name actor in an Eastwood film anymore. I don’t have to tell you that the system is broken, but it bares repeating. Whether it’s your friends, the studio system or some Academy; it doesn’t do you any good to work in bubble of false praise. Everyone’s capable of making a fairly terrible film and Eastwood has done that here.
VC-1 encoded transfer starts rather shaky, but strengthens once you get out of the opening.
There was a ton of edge enhancement when you hit the amateur rugby games played at the opening, but I’m not sure whether that was an aesthetic choice. Take a look at the screenshot from above. While Tom Stern has done capable work for Eastwood in the past, there is a lot of shimmer to motion shots. That would be workable if he was doing a period piece with little movement, but this is a full-on aggressive sports movie. Several times when Damon leads his crew on the field, we’re treated to a muddy background, as the foreground dominates the frame. The average eye won’t spot it in standard definition, but the HD transfer really makes it pop out.
Blu-Ray follows this weird pattern for Warner Brothers releases since
they realized that they could drive DVD sales to the next-gen by force.
Sure, you could buy just the DVD and get some basic featurettes. But,
the Blu-Ray comes with a digital copy, a Blu-Ray copy and the DVD copy.
Suck on that value, capitalist pigs. There’s also an exclusive maximum
movie mode that takes advantage of BD-Java applications to show various
featurettes about the production. There’s more supplemental material about how Matt Damon learned to play rugby and a music trailer for the film.