Thursday, December 24, 2009


Do you like watching grass grow? If not, this may not be the movie for you. This is the opposite of Transformers II, not one attractive girl, very little humor, void of any intrigue, and absence of any suspense. Rugby and history is the centerpoint of this movie. The final rugby match, the closing 20 minutes is eventful.

This is a movie that may appeal to non Americans than us. I thought Gran Tarino was slow, this movie is on the same level as that. Clint Eastwood directed both movies. I think he is interested in making movies that High School teachers would love to show to their students. He is making cultural events, not films worth spending $10 for. Perhaps I would pay to see this movie if free Red Vines and popcorn was included in the ticket.

Morgan Freeman is Nelson Mandela and he has just been released from his island prison. This movie did show some pictures of South Africa that I have seen before. Capetown looks exotic, right there on the coast like that.

Matt Damon stars as the buff Francois Pienaar, team captain of the Springbox. This is the national rugby team in South Africa that has been dominated by white for some time. In South Africa, whites favor rugby and blacks lean on the soccer side. The Springbox are beloved by whites, it is their passion and consumes their solitude. The dramatic scene in the first half of the film is when the black national sport organization was going to strip the Springbox of their colors and uniform colors. These colors have been a symbol of oppression and the terrible system of apartheid for decades. Mandela intervened and persuaded some of these officials to not tear down something that white people in South Africa have been celebrating for so many years. This would split up the country even more than it already is and start a derisive precedent.

Damon performed well with this South African accent. He pumped up for this movie, he was pretty thick. He was a solid captain. This movie had a third minor storyline in it besides Mandela and the rugby team-Mandela's security team. At first, just blacks were guarding Mandela. But they needed additional numbers. The captain of the security team was shocked when five white security guards stepped into the already cramped room. Mandela signed the protocol there. Mandela wanted to unify the country. When the citizens of South Africa see their leader being guarded by white security guards, this is not only a symbolic gesture but an exclamation point. He is saying this is the new path, I am on it, will you follow me? We need to mix, forget the past, and start with fresh sheets.

Mandella surrounds his schedule around the Springbox schedule. They are hosting the Rugby Word Cup in less than a year and supposedly the only reason their team qualifies is for this reason. The South African rugby team only has one black player and I am sure he was a recent addition. I thought Mandela would have tried to persuade the team to take a few more blacks. That would have been huge. I know there is some amazing black athletes and rugby is a strength and speed game more than just a skilled sport. Ofcourse blacks are skilled but it does not take that long to learn rugby and understand the games strategy. I am surprised the sports committee did not compel the Springbox to add some more black members.

Rugby is pretth boring to me but I did learn a little how the game is played in this film. The final episode is a brutal but exhilarating match between New Zealand and South Africa. I am not sure if this was the championship or the first big test for South Africa. It must have been the championship since Francois hoisted and kissed the large cup trophy at the end.

New Zealand was favored to win, South Africa was underdogs. New Zealand an intimidating team dance and song they performed right before the match. This was done right in front of Francois and his team. Eastwood did not show the unique rugby referee hand gestures not how a team substitutes a player. The game was intense and went into overtime. New Zealand, after a hard fought struggle, prevailed against a mighty oppenent.

Eastwood showed how sports can unify a fragmented nation. Two taxi drivers were near the stadium, listening to the game parked on the side of the street with a door open using their car's radio. A young black boy walked by and seemed to be picking up garbage where he can trade for some recycling money. The taxi drivers shouted at him to leave. In the first half, the boy was loitering so one of the taxi drivers looked in the boy's bag just to see what he was doing. In the second half, the boy was sitting on their hood in total astonishiment and joy. He was listening to the competition live. Perhaps he never had this opportunity before. After South Africa overcame their demons and eliminated their foes, the white taxi drivers were picking up this thin black kid and screaming in total pandemonium. Who said sports does not matter?

Mandela's female assistant and political strategist always thought his rugby inclinations and interest was childlike and immature. She did not see the big picture. She thought his priorities were misengaged, she was wrong. But rarely that was the case.

This movie had some decent music. The first half was like watching grass grow. To me, that is a huge damp spot. Having a wonderful final 20 minutes just does not cut it. The movie was barren of any humor. Freeman and Damon performed well. I am glad Freeman was actually in a decent movie unlike a ridiculous movie like that Slevin debacle they sometimes show on TV. Eastwood did not come near his Mystic River film several years ago but this is a pleasant and decent movie.

Mandela is a world wonder but his Charlie Sheen like comment 6 years ago about the US only being in Iraq for oil proved world events may be over his head now. I wish we took some oil from Iraq for compensation of eradicating a brutal dictator and his iniquitous sons. But I guess we will sit back and allow Iran confiscate Iraqi oil.

I allocate this movie two stars.**

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