Invictus

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Postby Joey » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:46 pm

1 star (out of 4).

Wow, I thought The Changeling and Gran Torino were bad, but this is a new low for Eastwood. Boring and irrelevant, with Eastwood's typical inability to deal with the nuances of race relations (and an inability to transcend his own latent racism) front and center this time, instead of the B plot it usually occupies in his better films. If it gets a pass, that's only because Precious and The Blind Side cornered the market on Racist/Essentialist films of the year. Although I suppose any director who can make Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon seem unremarkable in the same film deserves some kind of dubious honor, and who better than Oscar to provide that?




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Postby OscarGuy » Sat Jan 09, 2010 12:53 am

One of the things that bothered me so much about this film was how it managed to say something without saying anything at all. Freeman does fit the role perfectly and for that reason, the film feels like it should be about him, not about rugby. The scant mentions of his ex-wife, his marital and family problems, his attempts to bridge the gap, all seem to be such fleeting ideas that they seem inherently unimportant.

They establish that Mandela was a flawed, if visionary man, but drops the ideas that quickly. It's as if the screenwriters wanted to say everything they could about him but didn't have the time (maybe even desire) to go into depth. I wonder how much of that is the book on which the film is based and how much of it is the screenwriters trying to embellish on the flawed source material but failing to do so.
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Postby Mister Tee » Fri Jan 08, 2010 10:04 pm

I think I'm more or less along the BJ/rain bard axis -- the movie pretty much lived down to my expectations, yet I found it eminently watchable. It's true, as Sabin says, that the film views its protagonist as St. Nelson Mandela, and there's inherent limitation to that approach, as well as to the film's genre (which amounts to "underdog sports team wins against the odds"). But the fact is, Mandela was a singularly exceptional political figure, who accomplished something amazing (and virtually unprecedented), and it's stirring to see that achievement recalled, even in simplified fashion. (Though, as BJ says, the film, whatever its oversimplifications, is a miracle of nuance compared to The Blind Side)

Debits? Like Sabin, I still have no idea how rugby is played (it seems a bit like football with only field goals). The inspirational songs were cloying. I never got any sense of how such a dreadful team was turned into a winner inside a year (though the narrative suggests the wild idea that maybe the team should work out a little). And I find an inherent problem in scripts that characterize racist characters or actions -- we in the audience feel so inherently superior to them that moments involving them always ring false. (And, if they later "evolve", the change feels equally fraudulent)

Freeman as Mandela does, as someone has said, register as almost redundant, but just because the role fits him like a glove is no reason to dismiss it out of hand. He evokes the president quite effortlessly and flawlessly. I'd rather see other nominees under best actor, but his presence wouldn't make me groan. Damon's, for this, would. As BJ says, he's pretty much co-lead, yet for all that doesn't much register in the film. There's nothing wrong with his work, but Sabin is right that, given the solid work Damon has done over a decade, to get his second nomination for this nothing-burger feels all wrong.

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Postby rain Bard » Wed Jan 06, 2010 7:12 pm

I agree it's not one of Eastwood's best, and I went into it almost kicking and screaming (to myself). But apart from the horrible helicopter/music scene, I liked it far better than I was prepared to, and I don't think it's a drag on this year's awards season (I find few viable best picture candidates more to my liking), or unworthy of the Eastwood brand.

For starters, I think it's very effective in its use of real South African locations to bring a visual authenticity to contrast with the very scripted-sounding dialogue. And I'm not sure who besides Eastwood would have been able to get the kind of access he did; surely his iconic status as a performer opens doors more quickly and effectively than other directors can manage.

The contrast between the real and the mythical aspects of the film make it a fascinating commentary on the efficacy and limitations of mass media in helping to enact social change. Though this is what the film is "about" on an overt level, the fact that there are subtextual resonances in this regard made for a richer viewing experience than I expected.

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Postby dws1982 » Wed Jan 06, 2010 6:22 pm

Sabin wrote:The problem is that Invictus is quite possibly the worst script that Eastwood has gotten his hands on this decade.

I think Changeling is a worse screenplay, because it seems like about five different screenplays thrown on top of each other. Invictus is much more coherent, and was written by someone who at least knew what they were wanting to express. That said, Changeling is the better film, because Eastwood is much more engaged, particularly in the sequences involving Michael Kelly's detective. Invictus is his least personal film of the decade (his least personal since Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), which is why it's his weakest film of the decade. Forget whether the rugby scenes are well-directed or not (I think they more or less are), and and whether Morgan Freeman deserves an Oscar nomination or not. The themes that engage Eastwood as a director, themes that can make even genre potboilers like Blood Work and True Crime much more interesting than they would be in the hands of lesser director, are not present in Invictus, and that's why it's his weakest film in a dozen years. It has several good qualities, but it will not go down as one of his best films, for good reason.

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Postby flipp525 » Wed Jan 06, 2010 3:47 pm

Thanks guys. That's exactly what I needed to know.
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Postby Eric » Wed Jan 06, 2010 3:33 pm

Flipp, his bare pecs are on screen for about 3 seconds. That's it. Just stare at the jpegs online for a little while. It's way more fulfilling than the movie itself.

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Postby The Original BJ » Wed Jan 06, 2010 2:43 pm

Flipp, there is no reason to see Invictus. You've basically seen it. That it works I think is sort of beside the point when it comes to discussions of this film. It's hard for me to trash the thing because it's certainly decent enough, but there's barely anything worth discussing about it.

As Sabin says, Precious was definitely a more problematic movie, but I'm starting to think it's messiness is a lot more valuable than Invictus's competence. You could do a lot worse for two hours of entertainment than Eastwood's film, but I have a hard time seeing anyone argue that Invictus's existence adds anything to the universe.

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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Jan 06, 2010 2:42 pm

Sabin wrote:I don't really know why he's being considered for an Oscar other than he is a leading man in a supporting role with an accent.

I think it's worse than that. He's being considered because that was always part of the film's Oscar campaign plan. It's Green Mile moved to an acting category.

What truly drives me mad is people who think it'll somehow offset disappointment at his not being nominated for The Informant! As if. It infuriated me when folks wanted to honor Paul Giammatti for standard shtik in Cinderella Man after ignoring his breakthrough in Sideways -- or vote for Julianne Moore's undistinguished work in The Hours rather than her luminousness in Far from Heaven. From where I sit, sloppy seconds are worse than none at all.

Damon for a best actor nomination!

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Postby Sabin » Wed Jan 06, 2010 2:36 pm

I feel like I've already seen Invictus just from watching that overblown trailer. In fact, what is the reason to see Invictus at all?

For Oscar/Eastwood-completists only. You will gain basically nothing from this film.

Was there even sufficient pectoral worship of Matt Damon for me to justify paying to go see this? I found your review lacking in that department, Sabin.

Yeah, sorry about that. Don't know how I let Damon-worship slip my mind.

He's in it. Uh, you can see him. He takes his shirt off. I think you'll like that. He appears to have been working out...

Matt Damon does a better South African accent than Leonardo DiCaprio, but that's because he speak less and in a more reverent, hushed tone. If Matt Damon gets his second acting Oscar nomination for this, what an embarrassment! He's given such exceptional performances in Rounders, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Departed, and The Informant! He's honestly in Invictus to boost its commercial appeal. This is not a fleshed-out part and I'm more surprised by his precursor showing than any supporting performance perhaps since Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare in Love. Nothing against Rush, but you would hardly leave that movie raving about that "Rush magic!" Damon is fine, I guess. I don't really know why he's being considered for an Oscar other than he is a leading man in a supporting role with an accent. But he gets barely anything to do in this movie. I won't be predicting him.
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Postby flipp525 » Wed Jan 06, 2010 2:15 pm

I feel like I've already seen Invictus just from watching that overblown trailer. In fact, what is the reason to see Invictus at all? Was there even sufficient pectoral worship of Matt Damon for me to justify paying to go see this? I found your review lacking in that department, Sabin.
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Postby Sabin » Wed Jan 06, 2010 1:56 pm

There are several mortal problems with Invictus but the one that stands out is that Clint Eastwood is the absolute worst choice to direct this film. I don't know the exact backstory of how this screenplay came to be, but it would appear that Anthony Peckham adapted a book by John Carlin and Morgan Freeman got his hands on it and gave it to Clint Eastwood and asked him to direct it. If you want to get your screenplay made immediately and made without deviation, Eastwood's your guy. So I can appreciate Freeman's choice. The problem is that Invictus is quite possibly the worst script that Eastwood has gotten his hands on this decade. The ebb and flow of suspense feels like footnotes hand-picked from the book, and directly from history. It all builds to the climactic game at the end, but what transpires beforehand has a weird feeling of chronology.

There's no doubt why Morgan Freeman wanted to make THIS Invictus. It caters to his taste AND it's the only option for him at this time. Reading what he thinks of his own films and looking at his recent choices, this is an uncontroversial Nelson Mandela presented to America, one handled with kid gloved and presented as the next coming of (y)Our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Julie & Julia would be the same/better movie if you just watched Meryl Streep walking around the kitchen and doing that impression, Invictus would be roughly the same/better experience if you just listen to Morgan Freeman do quotations from Nelson Mandela amidst a bunch of rugby noises. The only character development available in this film is when its characters realize just how immaculate Nelson Mandela really is. Anthony Peckham has written the most irresponsibly underdeveloped screenplay for any Oscar bait this year. Precious was just an uneven, underdeveloped screenplay. Invictus is a lazy one!

I have no idea how to play rugby and now I have even less of an idea. It's all quite badly staged and directed, with much of the slow-motion all obnoxiously done in post-production. As a sports movie, there is little preceding the third act game to warrant such an overblown underdeveloped sequence. Characters in an Eastwood film flirt with classic archetype, but in Invictus it's almost an abstract exercise of how little information and time can we spend with these characters while still recognizing them. More so, it's how much directorial indifference can still constitute a legitimate narrative.
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Postby The Original BJ » Mon Dec 14, 2009 4:24 pm

I think I understand now why the reviews for this film were of the "damning with faint praise" variety, simply because they're mostly in line with my reaction. I'm on the thumbs-up side -- I think the movie plays, it's stirring, and it's well put-together. But it's also vaguely dull, eat-your-vegetables kind of cinema, and I can't muster too much enthusiasm even though I did enjoy myself.

Perhaps the fact that I just saw The Blind Side makes me appreciate this film a bit more than I might have. The Bullock film was a sports drama that existed in ludicrous land; Invictus is also an old-fashioned, cornball sports drama, but there's an element of authenticity here that's pleasing. It feels truthful and real, and Eastwood's attention to detail is noteworthy. (I really liked the opening shot -- of the white rugby players and the young black kids playing across the field, quickly establishing the film's central contrast visually without making it feel forced.)

I also liked that the film wasn't ham-handed about its treatment of race. Of course, race is a HUGE element of this story, but you don't get the sense the filmmakers are attempting to shove it down your throat (as occurred in, yep, The Blind Side.) When Freeman and Damon shake hands at the end of the film, you don't feel as if Eastwood thinks he's making some grand statement (even though the event WAS an important statement about South African racial unity). There's a simplicity here that's often been an aspect of Eastwood's work -- these are just two men, enjoying their moment of triumph. The deeper meaning of it all is something to ponder at another time.

I can't say I'd want either Freeman or Damon to receive acting nominations. Freeman is a terrific actor, and he's solid here, but that's about as far as it goes. To me, recognition would be based more on FREEMAN...playing...MANDELA...more than richness of performance. And Damon has even less to do. I can only pray voters won't fall to the category fraud campaign -- he's as much a lead as Freeman. Plus, it would be particularly disappointing for him to receive a nomination for playing barely a character here when he could be rewarded for his fine comic work in The Informant!

I definitely found this film more consistent than Flags of Our Fathers and Gran Torino, two films I know others liked a lot more than I did. But it's solid enough, even if Oscar nominations seem like they would be by default only.

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Postby Big Magilla » Sun Dec 13, 2009 2:03 pm

I haven't been reading Rex Reed much lately, but it's always good for a laugh catching up with him.

Like Armond White, he usually either loves or loathes a film and can be merciless when he doesn't like something. However, he comes across more bitchy than vitriolic and their tastes in films are often at polar opposites.

Anyway, his review of Invictus is mixed but on the positive side, while his review of A Single Man is the laugh out loud funniest review I've seen of anything all year. I would copy it here except that it contains major spoilers, but I can quote his last line:

"It’s like watching ice melt. Expensive ice, sure, but at the end you still have a puddle of water."

Go here if you want to read he entire piece:

http://www.observer.com/author/rex-reed
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Postby dws1982 » Sat Dec 12, 2009 11:20 pm

I almost mentioned the songs below. "Colorblind" is one of the worst things in the history of recorded sound. "Invictus: 9000 Days" is merely medciore, and both could have been cut without hurting the film at all. The score itself, I thought was very good. But no arguments on those songs.

I was thinking about it earlier today, and thing about Armond White's review that infuriates me--which is often present in his work--is that it once again demonstrates that for a middle-aged man, his world is still as black and white as that of a child. If he dislikes a movie it's all bad, the worst thing he's ever seen. If he likes it, the review is a floor-to-ceiling rave. If he assigned star ratings, I think 90% of his ratings would be either four stars, or zero stars. Sometimes he'll get it dead-on, but I can't think of anyone who can be more infuriating at times. Still, I'll take him over those dozens of people who all write basically the same review.




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