Clint Eastwood's name is synonymous with quality cinema whether it's from the director's chair or in front of the camera. Invictus, by and large, maintains that image of Eastwood and now it comes to Blu-ray.
Invictus tells the true story of the South African rugby union team at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Nelson Mandela, played brilliantly by Morgan Freeman, has come to power and instead of seeking revenge against those who jailed him for 27 years he forgives them and goes about trying to reconcile and rebuild his troubled nation. He seeks to do this by inspiring Francois Pienaar (played by a ridiculously buff Matt Damon), the captain of the troubled Springboks, to achieve the ultimate glory: win the Rugby World Cup.
If you've seen any sports film before you know the general feel of Invictus and the expected ending. While it doesn't break from many conventions of the genre, the acting is superb with Freeman in top form as Nelson Mandela. It's like Freeman's career wouldn't be complete without this role and he plays the historical leader brilliantly. He adds emotion and heart to the story. You can't help but understand why he's doing what he's doing as he wins you over throughout the film, just like the real Mandela did. He makes some rousing speeches, a few jokes, and works marvels with his facial expressions at times. Matt Damon is also quite good as the buff Pienaar.
I was surprised by how good Damon's accent sounded — it could have been a disaster — but also by how much this was Freeman's show. While it doesn't break from the feel-good sports genre conventions too much there are some key scenes which give it that added emotion and power. Freeman's speech about how his black bodyguards must work with white bodyguards is rather powerful and memorable and also quite true. There are larger social and political concerns being addressed in this film than a lot of other sports films. That does give the story greater depth than a simple underdog story as there is a lot riding on the team's success. It was also interesting to see Eastwood tackle something like this which isn't what I'd normally associate with him; it's always nice to see a director challenge himself.
The film has generally transferred well to Blu-ray. It is presented in 2.40:1 and the image is clear throughout the film. There are only one or two scenes where a bit of graininess appears but on the whole it's a very clean and clear image. The film uses a lot of color, especially green and yellow, and these colors really stand out. The quality of the grass in the film, at the stadiums, would make any groundskeeper envious as it looks perfect.The film also captures the high impact, high energy game of rugby quite well with a rather believable representation of the game appearing throughout the film. It really gets in close to the action on the pitch to help make you feel like you're a part of the game.
The film excels in the audio department during the rugby matches. It utilizes DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio to really make you feel like you're there. From the deafening roar of the crowd to the grunts and groans of the players the audio is brilliant. At times the crowd can feel a little too overpowering but that's how it should feel and anyone who's been to a large sporting event will know that. In terms of sound the standout has to be the last seven minutes of the final where the film turns to slow-motion to add some extra emphasis and drama to the scene. Extra emphasis gets placed on the sound so every hit, every movement, every sound gets your sub working as there's a lot of bass used. It's really hard not to get caught up in the moment with the expert sound. Meanwhile the dialogue is crisp and clear throughout the film. The accents are generally easy to understand and the only times you may have difficulty are when there are a few comments in what I presume is Afrikaans.
The Blu-ray is packed with special features which deal with the film's three main stars: Eastwood, Freeman, and Damon. "The Eastwood Factor" looks at Eastwood's career in the film industry and is a segment from the documentary The Eastwood Factor. It also contains an almost half-hour feature called "Mandela Meets Morgan," a short called "Matt Damon Plays Rugby," and a making of feature which looks at those who experienced the real event and the cast and crew. The making of feature, "Eastwood Factor" segment and "Mandela Meets Morgan" are Blu-ray exclusives. "Mandela Meets Morgan" and "The Eastwood Factor" were particularly interesting to watch. The Blu-ray also comes packaged with a standard DVD version of the film and a digital copy.
Overall Invictus is a good Blu-ray release. The film is an enjoyable and inspirational tale while the rugby matches sound brilliant in HD audio and there's over an hour's worth of exclusive special features on the Blu-ray. Plus you have the benefit of being able to give the DVD to someone if you so desire as the Blu-ray and DVD are on separate discs.
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