What’s admirable about Eastwood, and what I’ve enjoyed about his many well-directed films, is that he is one damn focused director. He does not play around when it comes to putting a film together, whether it's a biopic (which he seems to prefer) or a guts-and-glory film. Invictus’ first 20 minutes or so, unfortunately, seem to come out of the old video cookbook and the chapter on “Talking Heads.” Eastwood crafts the scenes a little too carefully. We get Mandela. He is no stranger to the world. The film does briefly tune into the country’s sights and sounds of shanty towns. It could speak volumes; instead it is muted by the screenplay. In my opinion, black South African music is the most stirring in the world and should have been used more effectively. Eastwood dropped the ball here. Thus, I would not bet on this film garnering any Oscar nods. It will be going up against a solid field of 2009 films and performances. It should do okay at the box office based on the star power behind it.
Finally, Eastwood’s got soul. And this film has a heart. The poem "Invictus", the source of the title for this film, offers cohesion as voice-over narration while the rugby team tours the restored prison cell and grounds that once held Mandela prisoner. The scene pays homage to a transcendent figure. Invictus goes about its storytelling with a little slow-motion action at the matches. I don’t get rugby. But a match between two titans makes money. There are no flashbacks used — just fine acting that moves this 132-minute film to its natural but strong conclusion: the Springbok team (and the nation) brings home a trophy and some measure of racial unity. Mandela vindicated.