Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Saturday, February 13, 2010



"Invictus", Clint Eastwood's account of Nelson Mandela's use of the 1995 Rugby World Cup to unite his country is a worthy story. The cast are fine, it looks fine, it should be a rousing tale. But it's not.
For me part of the problem is that it's all so happy. Even the white South African bodyguards, who we are told would have been beating up and terrorising Mandela's friends and family only years before, come out as only so many grumpy people in need of a hug. 'Biko' this is not. As a sports movie, Eastwood follows the format faithfully (underdogs find it in themselves to triumph when it matters), but it's hard to get too worked up about the now fearsome Springboks. Again the enemies here, the All Blacks, are hardly nasty people. Sure, they may be trying to tear your head off, but somehow that never seems like a real possibility. That big Maori they all seem so afraid of ultimately looks like a big smiling teddy bear, not the case I know, but that's how he appears. If you compare this to the equally heartstring-pulling 'The Natural', it's also painfully obvious that the sports scenes do not work. Both films use the cliche of slow motion (it must be important, it's going so slow), both have a team coming from behind as they near the match's end. In 'Invictus', however, there's no tension, no looking the pitcher in the eye, no real threat. The team, despite all our time with them, are an amorphous bunch. The format usually dictates that there is at least one player who must redeem himself (such as Redford's injured, potentially compromised Roy Hobbs); not so here. For me I had the curious experience of finding the dramatisation of the final rubgy match both too short (there was little opportunity to identify with or understand the team) and excruciatingly long (the slow motion countdown was painful). I wasn't even completely sure it was the final (I wasn't the only one who initially thought it was the semi).
"Invictus" cannot go totally wrong. As a true story, and one we can all respect, at the very least it makes the viewer feel like they're getting a healthy dose of some cinematic tonic. I couldn't help feeling that too much sugar was added to help the medicine go down.

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