Cast: Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman

Director: Clint Eastwood

Rating: ***

What strikes you most about this film is just how much pleasure a sure-footed, confident director can deliver by keeping everything simple. `Invictus' is based on the true story of how Nelson Mandela kept it all together in his nation newly unshackled from apartheid by co-opting a most unlikely candidate, the captain of the South African rugby team. His plan is simple : his country should win the 1995 world cup, to get both sides—the Blacks and the Whites, those who live luxurious lives in Johannesburg, and those who eke out a living in wretched shantytowns—together in a joint celebration.

Eastwood and Freeman have done some great work together ( `Million Dollar Baby'), and here again, Freeman as Mandela is as much himself as he is the man who was instrumental in getting his country free, and who was as much a world figure for his peaceful struggle as that other freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi. But there's really no one you can imagine being Mandela after you're done watching `Invictus', for which Freeman has got yet another Best Actor nom.

Equally good is Damon ( up for a Best Supporting Actor), who gets a break from playing battered-spies-on-the-run. Everything about him, from the distinctive accent to the restraint he holds out both in his home and on the field, is spot on. He doesn't get into a direct confrontation with his racist father, nor does he order his team-mates to sing the anthem of the newly-formed country : he suggests it, and it gets done.

A lovely little episode in the end, when the climactic match is being played out, is a comment on how the races, so deeply divided, can come together, even if for a moment : a bedraggled urchin is standing a little way off a patrol car with two burly cops, listening to the sounds of the spectators inside the stadium. As the tension mounts, he is shown getting closer, then sitting on the bonnet, then sidling closer, and then waving a Coke container, with as much delirious joy as the two cops, who've handed him one. That one scene captures everything that Eastwood sets out to do. Watch this one.

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