Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
Running Time: 2 hrs 13 mins
Release Date: December 11, 2009
PLOT: Nelson Mandela (Freeman) is finally put into power in South Africa. To help put the nation back together, he enlists the help of the rugby captain (Damon), hoping the sport can heal some wounds.
WHO’S IT FOR? Do you like mild entertainment? There isn’t much emotion in this true story that should have been gut-wrenching. It’s a racist country filled with stereotypes, but nothing feels very powerful.
EXPECTATIONS: Freeman playing Mandela. Eastwood directing. Damon joins the party. What’s not to like about the idea of this movie?
Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela: Apparently, Mandela is a simple man who loves to smile, say people’s names, and cheer for rugby. I’m not saying anything is wrong with this, but it doesn’t make for an interesting character by Freeman. He has the mannerisms down. He speaks slowly, and in a similar tone as Mendela (nice work on rolling your R’s). There is just no meat to this role. Cheering for the rugby team is an obvious and intelligent political move, but he’s mainly just shown as a fan. As far as his broken family is concerned? Yeah, I guess that would have been a little too real to talk about.
Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar: This is one of the least developed characters Damon has ever played. His accent is well done, and thick enough to where you will have the occasion to say, “What did he just say?” Francois plays rugby, and is good … we guess. No one ever really talks about his, or the team’s level of play. Mandela enlists his help in bringing the team together, and not the coach. We don’t know why. At a captain, he looks to inspire his team. We just rarely see that as well. Yet somehow, the team keeps getting better.
Rest of the Cast: Ouch. So bad. This is the second Eastwood film in a row where I have thought almost every single side character is not a good actor. The moments between the white and black members of the security team are something out of a Disney movie instead of a true struggle between cultures.
TALKING: Wait, are you saying Spring Box? Spring Bugs? Ohhh…. I see it in writing about 40 minutes into the movie. Springbok. Yeah, the name of the South Africa national rugby team is not something most Americans are going to know off the top. Just like the rules of rugby, which are never explained. Otherwise, we are given nice, polite speeches from Mandela that have a good, simple message. Saying all of that, I do absolutely love the line, “I am master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
SIGHTS: We spend way too much time in the nice part of town. There are only a few times when we see the poverty, and the separated classes of South Africa. Those are the few moments that work. Just like what is definitely the best scene of the movie (go to the plot spoilers section).
SOUNDS: So you have the opportunity to fill the entire movie with amazing African tribal music, and you don’t do it? For shame Mr. Eastwood. Look, I understand you like to do your own score. And the simple horn is effective. But what about the song by Overtone that is actually, seriously, not kidding, called “Colorblind.” The Disney movie comparison strikes again.
BEST SCENE: The South African rugby team drags its collective feet at the idea of going to the wrong side of town and helping the kids appreciate the normally hated, almost all-white team. We get to see pure joy of the faces of the children, and eventually the rugby team. I know this is the message the film is trying to present, but this is the only time I felt it.
ENDING: It’s the least impact a sports movie has had on me in a long time. This is insane considering what is at stake.
QUESTIONS: Why did the team get better? Looking at them, the majority were not top notch looking athletes. The only coaching I ever heard was, they’ll be in good shape. But we could clearly see they, as an entire team, were not. Also, there were so many times in the games when I didn’t know how much time was left or what was needed to pull out the victory. Here’s an honest real life question about Mandela … How in the world was he able to stay so positive and prove to have such a meaningful life after 27 years in prison. It is awe-inspiring.
REWATCHABILITY: Nope. There has to be a real-life soccer match on somewhere. It’s my fifth favorite sport, and I would happily choose it, over this film.
I feel like a dick. Eastwood is a legend. Who doesn’t love Morgan Freeman? Pound for pound, Matt Damon is my favorite, most consistent actor out there today. And this is the real life story about Nelson Mandela dealing with the awful aftermath of apartheid-torn land South Africa. I’d love to say this movie caught me on a bad week. But I saw 15 movies during this week, and never felt burned out on being entertained or inspired. And I’m a sucker for sports flicks.
Even though it seems like everything should be at stake, it feels like we are watching Mr. Rogers run a country. Freeman’s Mandela smiles politely and wants everyone to be his neighbor. While that may be real, Eastwood never makes it seem interesting. “One Team One Country” inspired the people of South Africa, and brought them together quicker than probably anyone thought possible. For those that say this is more than a sports movie, I would counter with it’s a bad sports movie, so it better be more. They spend so much time with the team, but we never really know them, know why they improve, or how they possibly compete against the best of the best.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10