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Invictus doesn’t have the element of surprise in its favor, but the story it tells is solid, interesting, and (yes) inspiring. Would that the world had more leaders as wise as Nelson Mandela, who recognized that despite his election to the Presidency of South Africa in 1995, there was still dissension and hostility throughout the land. How he goaded his national rugby team to push itself toward greatness, and how that…

affected his countrymen, is a remarkable true story.

There could be no better choice to play Mandela than Morgan Freeman; he succeeds in this role not only because he’s so well-suited to it, but because he doesn’t portray the famous leader as a plaster saint. He’s just a man, albeit an exceptional one, with equal parts humility, determination, and understanding of the human psyche. Matt Damon chalks up another victory by convincingly portraying rugby star Francois Pienaar; his mastery of the South African dialect is so complete, and his physicality so seemingly effortless, that we immediately accept him in the part. The South African actors who fill out the supporting roles are equally well chosen.

Anthony Peckham’s screenplay unfolds with simplicity and clarity, and Clint Eastwood films it in his usual straightforward fashion. The illustrations of how people’s attitudes begin to change in South Africa bear the stamp of Hollywood-style storytelling, but they’re never overplayed (as they easily could have been)…and they work. Invictus may not achieve greatness, like its central characters, but it’s an eminently satisfying movie.

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