After being released from prison after having lost 27 years of his life, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is elected the first black president of South Africa. After attending a rugby game in which the Springboks (South Africa’s team) lose, he invites François Pienaar (Matt Damon) to tea and inspires him to lead his team and win the world cup. United by the belief and hope that the future of the South African nation is brighter than its past, Mandela and François lead the rugby team to victory in the 1995 world cup (also a true fact in real life).
The character of Nelson Mandela was obviously given to Morgan Freeman. This is, of course, not the first time a producer thought about making a film like this and I doubt it if at any director has ever considered any actor other than Freeman. And he lives up to the part. His calm and peaceful performance conveys the sense of a truly revered and wise leader. In fact, Freeman’s performance is so good that you are almost under the impression that you are facing an extremely well-made documentary. Although Freeman does not seem to have too much freedom in this part, (considering the one line sentences that seem to have been hand-picked from actual speeches), he stays true to his character, and gives a most natural performance of the most revered leader of South Africa.
Although this is not the most striking film in terms of cinematography, some moments are very sophisticated yet not so much as to hide their meaning from their audience. One of the opening scenes, for example, shows a line of black children playing soccer in their bare feet on a muddy yard, while on the other side is a line of white children in their professional team-uniform playing on a neatly trimmed lawn. They are separated by a fence and between them, on the road, Mandela passes as the symbol of the middle path towards peace and forgiveness, to be achieved through sports.
Surprisingly, Clint Eastwood chose to focus on Rugby for the portrayal of this crucial time in South Africa history. One may be baffled as to why the issues of crime, discrimination, poverty, and so on, are not addressed in the film. But once you realize the symbolic power of this choice, you understand how life in South Africa and Nelson Mandela’s achievements can be encapsulated in a 2 hour film. Come to think of it, Eastwood could not have made a better choice