Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Petty Resentment Theatre - Final verdict on 'Invictus'

Yeah, so Invictus is a piece of shit. It likes to have lots of side-stories showing the different South African races growing into camaraderie, each more predictable and contentless than the last. Each of these act as support for the main theme of racial reconciliation, which is itself suitably shallow, signfying nothing. There's nothing here to engage with the story that's supposed to be told, we're just shown a series of images which are apparently meant to invoke all the storytelling inside of us. 'What just happened?' 'The domestic servant also got given a ticket to the big game.' 'And what now?' 'The brave knight killed the dragon with his sword.' Because the movie is in a rarefied air floating over the actual story, we are never touched by the difficulties shown and unmoved by their easy resolutions. There is a succession of inconsequential and largely made-up dramas thrown on the way, but the movie is so single-minded in its portrayal of Reconciliation that I find it incredible that anybody would be impressed by little insets that are so obviously beside the point.

Freeman is also very unconvincing as Mandela. I find his very frequent mistakes in the accent really distracting, but I can forgive that. But perhaps the direction is at fault: Mandela never gave great speeches, whereas the movie makes him out to be someone who solves his problems through rousing oration. Don't bother looking for examples of that in the real world: there aren't any. The film does try to highlight Mandela's more noted characteristics of character and humility, but again its lack of connection with any believable and filled-out story hamstrings this effort. Because we are just given images but not story, there's nothing to add flesh to Mandela's characterisation, and we're given nothing but assurances that he's a great man. Not good enough, I'm afraid: at some stage you need to stop making promises and start delivering on them.

Matt Damon does a much better job with the accent. Too bad he's directed to play a quiet, halting, apparently insecure pretty boy. There's nothing in the character for the actor or the audience to grab hold of.

Oh yes, and as someone who has watched and played rugby all my life, I found the rugby match sequences incomprehensible and pointless. Most of the time I was busy noticing how most of the players looked like underdeveloped schoolboys rather than world-class athletes, or wondering whether the bits of play they were showing conform to the rules of the game. That is how little that sequence captured my imagination.

I liked the movie best when it quietly showed scenes from the actual South Africa: the shots of the townships, and so on. They are believable, and tell quite enough of a story on their own. I very much did not like it when these scenes were artificially augmented with cinematic themes written in letters ten feet tall. Given that it's supposed to be the telling of an actual story, and the poignancy of said story is supposed to be what drives the message home, the film's continued deviation from retelling into embellishment is not only asinine, but self-defeating.

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