‘Invictus,’ ‘An Education’ hope for golden glory
When it is December and a movie comes out directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and co-starring Matt Damon, it might as well be flashing “for your Oscar consideration” at the bottom of the screen in neon lights.
With the expansion of the Academy Awards best picture to 10 slots this year, Invictus just might earn a nomination.
It is an enjoyable movie with an uplifting sports’ theme, and a more important theme about using a sporting obsession to heal the pain of a nation ripped apart for decades by the ugly stain of apartheid. Eastwood and his cast present these two themes in a straightforward manner.
However, the film is so conventional, it feels like a fictional story. It is so obsessed with getting to the healing process, it barely remembers the horrific pain that brought on this urgent need for healing. And, to be frank, as an American who only knows a little bit about rugby, watching a sporting match when you don’t know the rules is a little bit frustrating. Yes, the game was just a backdrop for the more important story, but the rugby action does play a major role in feeling the warm glow of victory.
The story begins when Nelson Mandela is released from prison after 27 years. Several years later he becomes the president of South Africa, a joyous time for the South African majority and a confusing and uncomfortable time for the white minority. One of the last pleasures for that white community was their national rugby team, the Springboks. Because the team was white, except for one player, and the team’s colors were green and yellow, the former colors of the national flag — and to the black population, the colors of apartheid — the team was despised by the black community. Mandela understood this, but he also saw that if he backed the team, and convinced all South Africans the team represented this newly forged nation moving beyond apartheid, it would help bring the two sides together.
Freeman is very good as Mandela and Damon does a fine job as the captain of the rugby team, but as noted earlier, the film seems determined to show us the uplifting side of the post-apartheid era, and that just feels like a whitewash, pun intended.
An Education is also earning Oscar buzz, in particular for the performance of Carey Mulligan as Jenny, a 16-going-on-17 teenager who hates her boring life in 1961 England. As a fan of the great kitchen-sink dramas and British coming-of-age films of the 1960s, I loved this throwback to that glorious time in British filmmaking. Mulligan is sensational as an exceedingly smart young woman who is obsessed with French music, cigarettes and art.
For Jenny, a chance meeting with an older man who introduces her to life’s possibilities beyond her boring life, provides an instant shortcut to the sophisticated life she wants to achieve. The fact that her boyfriend David (Peter Sarsgaard) is a thief and a conman must be overlooked. He is charming enough to dazzle her parents, and that is worth more than the Oxford education she once aspired to achieve.
Naturally we suspect — and Jenny eventually learns — that David is actually a cad, providing a few life lessons she would rather have avoided, like heartbreak and disappointment. Youth, however, can bounce back from life’s darker side and that is just what Jenny does accomplish in this vibrant and understated little film directed by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig.
Directed by Clint Eastwood; rated PG
An Education ***
Directed by Lone Scherfig; rated PG-13
To read more about movies and other topics covered by movie critic Lori Hoffman under her blog alias Moviejunkie, visit http://blog.acweekly.com/