Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 2009. Warner Bros., Spyglass Entertainment, Revelations Entertainment, Malpaso Productions, Liberty Pictures. Screenplay by Anthony Peckham, based on the book Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation by John Carlin. Cinematography by Tom Stern. Produced by Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Lori McCreary, Mace Neufeld. Music by Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens. Production Design by James J. Murakami. Costume Design by Deborah Hopper. Film Editing by Joel Cox, Gary Roach. Academy Awards 2009. Golden Globe Awards 2009.
Nelson Mandela is released from prison after having served twenty seven years as a political prisoner, and goes on to become the first democratically elected President of South Africa by an overwhelming majority in 1994. His new position signals the end of the country’s brutal Apartheid, with Mandela now in the unenviable position of leading a country populated by both black citizens who hate their country and whites who now hate their government. The solution? Rugby, of course! The new order insists that the Springboks team, which up until now has symbolized the nation’s history of segregation, be dissolved, but Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) insists otherwise: to take away a national symbol in the spirit of revenge will not lead to the forgiveness and peace of his proposed “rainbow nation”, but to more oppression. At the heart of his goal is the rugby team’s captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon doing a surprisingly decent South African accent), whom the President engages to lead his struggling team to victory in the year that South Africa hosts the Rugby World Cup. Sports movies about the prospects of the underdog are never very far from our view, but director Clint Eastwood has made a solid drama whose powerful political element makes it unique in the genre. The film is as much about sports as it is about a moment of political history, and moves back and forth between the rugby field and the offices of power with equal smoothness. Freeman gives his most inspiring performance since The Shawshank Redemption, and Eastwood contributes direction that combines his familiar quiet strength with moments of unapologetic sentimentality. Those looking for a hard-edged examination of Mandela’s effect on the nation following the events here depicted will be disappointed, however.