Film Reviews


By • Dec 8th, 2009 •

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A disappointment. While not diminishing the father of South Africa, this is a tedious documentary-style bore. Eastwood’s Mandela is a very kind man, but we never get to really know him.

Americans will never embrace rugby. It’s much too violent for our children. Players wear only a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers. I’m not sure how rugby is played or scored but one thing is a fact: it looks like gang brutality with points.

For the rest of the world, rugby is very important, and why not? There is no padding, helmets, or other expensive paraphernalia. It’s soccer with punches.

However, for South Africa, after renouncing apartheid and electing Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) president, their lousy performance on the world’s rugby stage takes center stage.

Mandela rightly decides that he will bring South African blacks and whites together cheering for the national team, the Springboks, to win the World Cup. It’s an enormous task, while Mandela’s staff of blacks and whites sneer at each other. They must work to get along. We learn a lot about Mandela’s security detail.

What about the Mandela’s combustible marriage and fractured family? It is as if a director would remove Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare’s play! Instead, we get an unhappy daughter as Mandela’s confidante and the Springboks white captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to champion his yearning for a win. Mandela wins Pienaar over by inviting him for tea.

I am not denying the importance of Mandela who, after serving an astonishing 27 years in prison, is released and, four years later, elected South Africa’s first black president. But why not make an exciting, dramatic movie instead of characterizing Mandela as the Living Saint of South Africa?

Incredibly, with the blessing of Mandela, the Springboks actually make the finals – they just needed a pep talk – and they are set to play in the 1995 World Cup against a New Zealand team of Maori warriors. These guys have a war cry. The Springboks have a poem from Mandela.

All I learned about Mandela is that 27 years in prison gave him a very high moral standard and a Buddha-like effect on those around him. He gives away one-third of his president’s salary, he works even while he sleeps, he cares about the families of his staff, and learns the names of everyone he meets.
I’ve been to South Africa several times. Unfortunately, director Eastwood never captured the hardships the country faced and still faces. Eastwood’s South Africa in 1995 is picture-perfect dull. The whites, losing all power in the country, just gripe among themselves.

Freeman never gets inside Mandela’s psyche and it is not his fault. The screenwriter, Anthony Peckham, gives Mandela a sweet demeanor and far too many long speeches. Damon does a fine job walking through stadiums but not much else. He does have the accent down nicely.

The original music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens, is clearly derivative of the score from Eastwood’s MILLION DOLLAR BABY. Why? Couldn’t they come up with different notes? While the cinematography by Tom Stern of the rugby matches is terrific, we cannot cheer along with the crowd. We learn nothing about how the game is played.

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