"Invictus" and "The Road"
Invictus - For some, sports are nothing but meaningless games, contested by overpaid and overglorified athletes. Even as a sports fan I have to say that these people make a good point. On the other hand, sports are important. They can unite families, schools, cities (Seattle in '95), and even whole countries in a way nothing else can. Even after almost 30 years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela understood this. Clint Eastwood's new film tells this story, and is one of the few films I've seen to effectively illustrate just why sports truly matter.
Four years after his 1990 release, Mandela (Morgan Freeman) was elected president of South Africa. With apartheid still fresh on the minds of the entire nation, Mandela sought to bring blacks and whites together and end the ongoing mistrust amongst his people. He seems unsure just how to accomplish this until he attends a rugby match between the nearly all-white South African national team and England. "The whites are all cheering for South Africa," he realizes while, "all the blacks are cheering for England. That needs to change." As unimportant and inexplicable as this seems to many close to him, Mandela makes it his mission to make the Springboks beloved not only amongst the white minority, but by all South Africans. It goes beyond sports in his eyes, even beyond politics. "It is a human calculation," he insists. It wouldn't be easy however, as the Springboks still represented apartheid for many.
Mandela's first step towards achieving this is meeting with team captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), who seems utterly overwhelmed as he fully understands just what Mandela's aim truly is. "We're more than just a rugby team now," Pienaar tells his teammates. "We may as well accept that."
Even as the host nation for the 1995 Rugby World Cup South Africa was believed to have no chance at winning a single game, let alone the Cup itself. But as the team began to win they began to unite a nation.
As always, Eastwood's direction is assured and accomplished without being flashy. He and writer Anthony Peckham keep their focus on the relationship between not only Mandela and Pienaar but on the relationship between Mandela, the Springboks, and the South African people. Freeman and Damon each give quiet yet exceptional performances as the two men who helped to heal a nation through something as seemingly trivial as sport. The supporting cast is just fine though outside of Mandela and Pienaar no other characters are fully developed. Perhaps developing these characters further would have given the film an even greater impact. As it is though, Eastwood has delivered another winner and a film that even the most rabid non-sports fan can enjoy. 8/10.
The Road - The last time a Cormac McCarthy novel was brought to the big screen, the Coen Brothers finally got their Best Picture Oscar for a thoroughly dark modern day western. This time we get a futuristic tale that makes the worlds of "Blade Runner" and "Children of Men" seem cheery by comparison.
After a nuclear apocalypse has wiped out the majority of life on earth, human, animal, and plant alike, the survivors spend their days and nights doing just that, surviving. An unnamed Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his unnamed Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travel the empty roads searching for food and shelter anywhere they can find it. The few people they meet along the way cannot be trusted. "Cannibalism is the great fear," Man explains.
From the beginning, director John Hillcoat ("The Proposition") immerses us in this bleak world in which there is seemingly no reason to hope for a better future. Man's wife (Charlize Theron) realized this early on- as we see in flashbacks- as did many others who took their own lives rather than continue to live in such a world. Man's resolve is such that he will not take this way out, nor will he resort to cannibalism. "We're the good guys," he tells his son. "No matter what." Throughout however we see that it is up to the Boy to remind his father of this.
For the vast majority of its running time, "The Road" is astonishingly good filmmaking. The sense of place Hillcoat establishes truly is something special. There are moments of genuine dread and terror, such as a moment in which dying trees fall all around Man and Boy. I found myself so drawn in by the film that their discovery of canned food created a sense of joy. We really come to care about these characters and find ourselves wondering if we could handle such a life.
Another element that makes "The Road" work as well as it does is that for Boy, this is all he knows. "I must seem like I'm from another world to you," Man tells him as they enjoy a feast courtesy of Del Monte. He truly is.
Mortensen and McPhee breathe tremendous life into these characters. Mortensen captures Man's struggle as he protects his son at all costs in one moment, while putting a gun to the child's head in case they cannot escape a gang of cannibals the next. McPhee meanwhile delivers one of the finest child performances I can recall. This is true throughout the film but it is especially evident in the moment that Boy sees another child for the first time in his life. Not able to trust another living soul Man pulls Boy away as he screams to get another look. "He was like me!" he cries. It's a powerful moment in a powerful film.
I'm still chewing on what I really think of the ending of "The Road" but there is no doubt that it is a must see movie and one of the year's best, featuring an outstanding musical score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis ("The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford"). 9/10.