The film tells the inspiring true story of how President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team (Matt Damon) to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s rugby team as they make their historic run to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship match. Directed by Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino… Do we really need to go on?).
Rating: 6 out of 10
As a rugby player and fan, I was pumped to finally have a good rugby movie. I have not seen 2008’s “Forever Young” and the handful of foreign films about my favorite sport, but they’re few and far between.
But this is, after all, a sports movie, and this one follows suit to its sappy predecessors. Nelson Mandela is an incredible human being. He saw small ways to fix problems, and rugby was a part of that. It was a small piece in the extremely complex social puzzle of post-Apartheid South Africa. But this film takes some historical leaps, pinning the change of culture entirely on the Rugby World Cup.
While the story is true — Mandella did call on François Pienaar, the captain of the South African team to help bridge the gap between whites and blacks — it wasn’t the pinnacle turning point for the country. Some argue it still hasn’t happened.
But looking past that, the film has a great cast. Damon is solid and Freeman simply becomes Mandela. There are likable moments, moments where words are said that make you cringe, and parts of the film that tug on your heart strings with the unbearable weight of melancholy nostalgia. It’s a solid film, but far off from Eastwood’s other masterful work, like “Mystic River” and “Unforgiven,” but is far better than most American sports movies. It’s a must watch for rugby fans.