WHEN I first heard Morgan Freeman was to play Nelson Mandela I thought, as most did, what a perfect fit! As the story and further cast was announced, with the bland Matt Damon taking a co-starring role and Clint Eastwood in the directors chair, this see


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WHEN I first heard Morgan Freeman was to play Nelson Mandela I thought, as most did, "what a perfect fit!"

As the story and further cast was announced, with the bland Matt Damon taking a co-starring role and Clint Eastwood in the directors chair, this seemed to be the perfect Oscar bait for 2010.

Its release date is smack bang in this nomination calendar and the inspirational true story of a great leader and his country's sporting underdogs seems exactly what gets the awards judges drooling.

But oddly Invictus has got barely a sausage in the last few weeks, and the recently announced Oscar nominations has again seen Invictus miss out on the big Best Picture award.

So what was once dulled excitement, to see a master at work in what Clint Eastwood obviously hoped would be his magnum opus.

But this is another great showcase for South Africa, with both this and District 9 (which is a brilliant low budget sci-fi but hardly normal Oscar fodder, yet has been nominated for Best Picture ahead of Invictus!) showing off the growing film industry in the beautiful African country.

So, if I'm honest, the tale of Nelson Mandela is bound to be eye-opening and interesting but with a surprising lack of any plaudits (similar to the new Daniel Day Lewis musical 'Nine', out in December, that was expected to do well but ended up sucking) I fear that this will be a disappointment.

Thoughts Afterwards

I was slightly too young to experience the inspiring moment that Nelson Mandela was released from jail and duly became the leader of a nation he passionately wanted to unite.

Pretty much my only knowledge of him has been through a Wikipedia page and that edition of Ground Force where Alan Titchmarsh done up his garden.

So now, thanks to the apparent realism of Invictus, I'm now clued up on how he became such a renowned historical figure - rugby.

Clint Eastwood directs this reconstruction of the events surrounding his election victory and then, of course, the Springboks World Cup victory. His direction feels slightly constrained throughout (allowing the story to tell itself instead of using clever visual metaphors and imagery). This would be a welcome blessing but with a running time of well over two hours it felt like a reconstruction sometimes and not a feature film.

The star power of Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon helps pull the film from potentially 'bad' territory though, with two performances that are far off Oscar worthy but still solid. Freeman obviously loved this opportunity to play the role he so looks the part to play. Matt Damon's build-up body and convincing South African accent were both a bit of a surprise - it's been a while since the actor has stretched himself (I've not seen it since Good Will Hunting I think).

There's also a surprisingly chirpy performance from that one woman from Casualty (she played Colette in the long-running medical soap opera). It was odd seeing an evening BBC1 fixture starring alongside a Hollywood megastar - can you imagine Bianca from East Enders alongside Tom Cruise?

It's just a shame with all this Hollywood and Casualty stardom that the film still felt lacking. It certainly not from a lack of realism, as Eastwood re-enacts some of the most famous scenes from both political and sporting history.

It just all felt a bit empty, a bit (dare-I-say) forgettable...

There's little empathy for any character apart from Mandela and the rugby scenes are straight from the sporting movies cliché book. They look great and I'm still debating whether they actually got a jam-packed stadium full of people for it (I assume 'yes). But slow motion conclusions, the underdogs conquering all - we all know the end so the film desperately needed to grasp onto the bigger issues more.

The racism and nationwide turmoil is touched upon at the beginning but once the World Cup comes and goes we're left with just a sports movie. There are a thousand issues that could have been brought up, debated, speculated - but they just weren't. A good 15 minutes could have been snipped of pointless slow motion and a good half hour added to bring some depth to the script.

Invictus had the promise of something special but both I and the award's judges seem to agree that this is less of what could have been.

Rugby fans will love it, South Africans should love it, historical buffs will admire it. But for anyone else we're left a little empty by the end.

TIM LINCE

3/5 STARS