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Clint Eastwood's Invictus draws mixed early US response

Invictus

Preview by Jack Foley

CLINT Eastwood’s latest directorial outing, Invictus, has been greeted with a mixed early response from critics in America.

Based on the novel Playing The Enemy by John Carlin, the film – which takes its name from the Latin word for “unconquerable” and comes from a stirring 1875 poem by British writer William Ernest Henley – tells the true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite their country.

Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman, who last united with Eastwood on Million Dollar Baby, and Pienaar is played by Matt Damon.

Of the more favourable reviews, Variety declared that “Invictus is a very good story very well told”.

It continued: “Once again in his extraordinary late-career run, [Clint] Eastwood surprises with his choice of subject matter, here joining a project Freeman had long hoped to realise…

“Directed by Eastwood with straightforward confidence, the film is marbled with innumerable instances of Mandela disarming his presumed opponents while giving pause to those among his natural constituency who might be looking for some payback rather than intelligent restraint.”

Variety critic Todd McCarthy goes on to praise the performances of both Freeman and Damon, noting of the latter in particular that “if he weren’t a recognizable film star, you’d never think he were anything other than a South African rugby player”.

The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, described Invictus as “a temperate, evenhanded perhaps overly timid film about an intemperate time in South Africa”.

Predicting that the movie would pull its main audience from adventurous, older cinema-goers, it stated that “for those who do buy tickets, it will be a pleasure for them to encounter a movie that’s actually about something”.

But sounding a note of caution, it added: “The downside here is a certain trepidation on the filmmakers’ part to dig very deeply into what is still a politically sensitive situation.”

David Ansen, of Newsweek, states: “Invictus is not a biopic; nor does it take us deep inside any of its characters – Eastwood views Mandela from a respectful middle distance.

“It’s about strategic inspiration. We witness a politician at the top of his game: Freeman’s wily Mandela is a master of charm and soft-spoken gravitas.”

Invictus opens in UK cinemas on February 5, 2010. View photos from the UK premiere