Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Video review: "Invictus"

In the last decade or so, we've come to expect that everything director Clint Eastwood touches has a patina of Oscar gold. His movies have racked up so many Academy Award nominations, and wins, that each new film is greeted with the fanfare reserved for a masterpiece.

On that score, "Invictus" is a disappointment -- a fine, though hardly great film.

Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela, the South African activist who was called a terrorist, jailed and kept in isolation for 27 years, released and elected president of the country that oppressed him. Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, the captain of the nearly all-white Springboks national rugby team, who became Mandela's partner in an unlikely quest to unite their fractured nation through sports.

Screenwriter Anthony Peckham, working from a book by John Carlin, explores how Mandela used rugby for explicitly political purposes, reasoning that just getting blacks and whites to cheer for the same team would do more than a hundred speeches or marches.

Eastwood stumbles a bit in presenting so much on-screen action of a sport few Americans comprehend. The climactic game seems to go on and on.

It's still an inspiring sports movie, but could have been much more.

Extra features are rather spare for the DVD version, but improve to spectacular upon upgrading to Blu-ray.

The DVD has a musical trailer and a 7-minute featurette about Damon buffing up and training to portray a rugby player. That's it.

In addition, the Blu-ray has a 28-minute making-of documentary that's most notable for video footage of Freeman meeting with the real Mandela. There's also a picture-in-picture commentary track totaling about 100 minutes that includes insights from Eastwood, his cast and a host of crew and technical advisors.

Falling into don't-miss territory is "The Eastwood Factor," a 22-minute featurette about Eastwood's career by film critic Richard Schickel (a shorter version of a feature-length documentary). It includes the revelation that more than 20,000 costumes from Eastwood's films are preserved on the Warner Bros. lot.

The Blu-ray also boasts a digital copy of the film.

Movie: 3 stars out of four
Extras: 3.5 stars

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