Clint Eastwood has become king of the Oscar bait. There’s something – I don’t know – soothing about this, even if it is not was expected from The Man with No Name. But every year now he cranks out a film or two that seems crafted to garner acclaim and awards. This worked for a while with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, but though a number of his films after those two got cursory nominations, Eastwood’s Oscar run haven’t had much heat since. And this year, when the Academy expanded to ten best picture nominees; it was telling that – though the film got two acting nominations – Eastwood’s Invictus was not a best picture nominee. The story of how Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) used the South African Rugby team (headed up by Matt Damon) to unite his country is exactly the sort of Oscar bait that usually attracts attention. But not this time, and for reason. My review of Invictus on Blu-ray after the jump.
After Nelson Mandela is freed from prison and made president of South Africa, tensions are still running high. Apartheid might be over, but there is residual scarring. This doesn’t matter to François Pienaar (Matt Damon), who is head of the rugby team and about to enter into the nationals as something of an underdog. But Mandela, sensing the cultural tensions, grows interested in the sport and Pienaar, encouraging him and his team to win, but also suggests they interact with the community more. Of course, it would be amazing if they could, you know, win the Rugby World Cup Champion.
The results of the film are self evident, and at 138 minutes the film is leisurely about getting there. Like much of later Eastwood projects, you have to take some super heavy-handed symbolism alongside some wonderful grace notes. The film itself is a failure, but because the academy didn’t take it that seriously, it manages to be better than expected. There is an absurd moment where Damon sees the prison field where Mandela was kept and sees a ghost of his image. It’s an old school moment, something you might expect in a film from the 50’s, and it’s charming in its antiquated terribleness.
I think what interested me most about the film is that I know nothing about rugby, and the film shows you nothing about how the sport is played. But to that it doesn’t matter – you get the point of the sport and Eastwood isn’t staging “come from behind victories.” The sport itself doesn’t matter, and that’s the point. And that’s the brilliance of the film (such as it is) in that everyone knows that the game is a distraction, but it gains purpose and a certain level of poignancy that through a sport a nation can feel a certain amount of pride. But what fascinated me about the rugby on screen is this: even without knowing exactly what was going on, by the audience’s reactions to what’s on screen it’s easy to invest in the results. The film tells an interesting story that way and Eastwood’s point and purpose isn’t without interest.
Warner Brother’s Blu-ray also comes with a DVD and Digital Copy. The Blu-ray is presented widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1. The transfer is pretty perfect. The film comes with a picture in picture track that runs much of the movie and comes with an option where you can skip to the next section of pop up content. Then there’s “Mandela Meets Morgan” (28 min.), which doesn’t actually sow the two together too much but does talk about the former’s legacy. “Matt Damon Plays Rugby” (7 min.) talks about the actors training. Then there’s the Richard Schickel-narrated and directed “The Eastwood Factor” (22 min.), which is a sampling of his feature length documentary on Eastwood. And the disc wraps up with a music trailer.