This film was a boring and sappy disappointment from a filmmaker I generally love. I’m especially biased when it comes to Clint Eastwood and always try to give him the benefit of the doubt, but after seeing Gran Torino and this I’m pretty convinced that his work is on a downward spiral. What really bothers me about this movie, is all the squandered potential. What could’ve been an inspiring and layered film is a generic and hokey sports movie.
I went into this film wanting to learn more about Nelson Mandela as a man and his achievements. I didn’t expect him to be written as a one-dimensional selfless saint who walks around smiling and spreading goodness like a Care Bear. I’m not saying Mandela isn’t one of the greatest people in history, and he’s certainly recognized as such, but he simply isn’t human in this film. There are no layers, there’s no complexity and this isn’t the only character in the film that has this issue. Every single character does. Matt Damon’s character, Pienaar, has the exact same issue, there’s no human there. I actually shouldn’t even be calling them characters because they’re not. They’re empty, manipulative protagonists that suit the cliched needs of the story. Pienaar is a blank slate that occasionally delivers exhausting motivational speeches to his team throughout the movie, and frankly, I’ve heard far too many of those. I really didn’t want to have to sit through Remember the Titans again.
The script is terrible. Every single scene is a piece of sappy manipulation that could be predicted a mile away. I’m okay with inspirational, formulaic filmmaking when it’s involving, but I didn’t care about anything in this movie because it developed no involvement. There were no characters, no conflict, endless pep-talks and a hell of a lot of cheesy music.
The last half hour of the film is when I felt the most bored, I know absolutely nothing about rugby, and maybe that’s my own fault. Although, I think a film has a bit of an obligation to graze over the rules of rugby when it spends the last half-hour on a game. I guess it doesn’t really matter that much because half of that is spent on shots of over-excited, overly-happy families huddled around television sets and slow motion shots of the crowd cheering but I would’ve appreciated a little bit of insight.
Those are all the things I disliked about the film, but I honestly did not hate it. Although the writing of the characters Freeman and Damon portrayed was very poor, they really did the best that they could with that material. The cinematography, although somewhat lifeless, is well-composed overall and there are a few memorable images that really hit home for me. There are a couple scenes that took me into the experience for a moment(although I quickly fell back out shortly after), and the Clint Eastwood’s direction is very finely-tuned and is without a doubt exceedingly skilled.