Reliable as Santa Claus, Eastwood these days can be counted on to pop up around Oscar-time with a new film (or sometimes two, as in the case of last year's The Changeling/Gran Torino combo or a few years back with Flags of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima). It's comfort food for grown-ups who have no interest in sexy teenage monsters or Jim Cameron's tall blue 3-D aliens.
I can see how some will immediately reject Invictus's seeming embrace of every sports and racial-harmony cliche (I rolled my eyes a few times), but there's still intelligence at work in Eastwood's study of forgiveness (a new topic for him, as the NY-Times points out, after a career focused almost entirely on the notion of revenge). The first half of the film, dealing primarily with the recently freed and newly elected Mandela (Morgan Freeman, who else?) is particularly interesting. We watch the man's machinations as he figures out how to use South Africa's run to World Cup rugby victory as a shrewd attempt to heal the country's still-festering racial divide. Was this run to glory really as important to the country as the film posits? I don't know. I doubt it. But it works cinematically as an interesting focal point, although the film's last half, a more traditional underdog-sports film, is less interesting. Matt Damon's captain of the rugby team is not a particularly compelling fellow as a character, and I'm not sure Eastwood has any particular facility for shooting rugby matches or even a full understanding of the sport (I know I still don't know what the fuck was going on on the field!). But of course the point is ultimately not what's going on on the field but rather the effect it has on the country. Mandela explains early on that he doesn't see his maneuverings as "political" calculations but rather as "human" ones, and we're left with an appreciation of a leader who always truly has the best interests of his country at heart.