Invictus Directed By: Clint Eastwood Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Julian Lewis Jones, Adjoa Andoh, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Leleti Khumalo Studio: Warner Bros. Year: 2009 Rated: PG-13 Film Length: 133 minutes Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1 Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish Release Date: May 18, 2010 The Film **** Invictus dramatizes the true story of South Africa's improbably successful run in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The film's opens in 1994 shortly after Nelson Mandela (Freeman) has won South Africa's first post-Apartheid presidential election. Mandela occasionally baffles and frustrates his top staff by making efforts to include minority Afrikaner South Africans in his administration, inclusive of his security detail. Perhaps most surprising of all is when he gets behind a most unlikely national symbol: The Springbok Rugby team. While the sport of rugby is an obsession for the white minority, the majority of South Africans have no interest in it at all. The national Springbok's team in particular is viewed as a shameful symbol of Apartheid by much of the country. Over objections of his staff who want him to focus on more pressing matters of state, Mandela first intercedes with the national sports authorities to prevent the disbandment of the team and then personally contacts Captain Fran¸ois Pienaar (Damon) to express his support and encouragement for the team in the upcoming World Cup, which South Africa, until recently banned from international competition due to Apartheid, will be hosting. Considering how large Nelson Mandela's legend looms in recent history and the story of Apartheid in South Africa, a sports movie seems at first blush like an odd way to dramatize his history. As it turns out, Clint Eastwood's Invictus proves more insightful and illustrative of Mandela's character and importance as a political figure than almost any decades spanning biopic could hope to be. By centering the action at a pivotal moment around two inherently dramatic and intersecting situations from the mid-90s: Mandela's efforts to unify the country as its first truly democratically elected leader and the South African national rugby team's advancement through the 1995 World Cup, the film can illustrate Mandela's charisma, intelligence, philosophy, personality, and political savvy without ever slowing down to try to dramatize his whole life. Mandela's history infuses the whole film whether it be the fear and distrust with which he is greeted upon his election by Afrikaners who were taught that he was a Communist and terrorist or the uncertainty of his own staff and opposition party leaders about his reconciliatory tone with their former oppressors. His revolutionary beginnings and long incarceration inform his actions and motivations without significant screen time being required to dramatize them. As successful as the film is at dramatizing some of the key aspects of Nelson Mandela's character and political skill, it also works as a sports movie. Viewers need know very little about rugby to enjoy the film, and it never bothers to slow down to try to explain it to novices because, as is the case with almost every sports film ever made, it is really about the transcendent unifying power of sports in general. The movie is very well cast with Freeman recognized as such an obvious choice to play Nelson Mandela that Mandela himself had mentioned it and producers had apparently been trying to find a suitable film to make with him in the role for years. Freeman does not take these votes of confidence for granted, and does a tremendous job moving beyond a simple imitation and externalizing the character inclusive of his body posture and movement. Aside from Hollywood stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, most of the rest of the cast consists of South African actors, which adds to the sense of verisimilitude achieved by shooting the film in South Africa. One scene shot on Robben Island takes place in the actual cell where Mandela was incarcerated for nearly 30 years. The Video ***½ The video comes courtesy of a VC-1 encoded 1080p presentation letterboxed to the film's 2.4:1 aspect ratio. Like most of Eastwood's films in the 2000's, Invictus was shot by cinematographer Tom Stern. Eastwood and Stern opt for an artificially desaturated look that also frequently appears to have the exposure pushed a stop or two causing bright areas of the image to appear on the verge fo blooming. It seems an odd stylistic choice for the material, but the lack of deeply saturated colors does give a sense of a more textured film look even though the grain structure is very fine and barely discernible at reasonable viewing distances. Strangely, although shot almost entirely on location throughout South Africa, the cinematographic style drains the blue out of the skies to the point that it looks like it could have been shot in and around smoggy Southern California. That being said, the stylized cinematography is conveyed accurately by the encoded video. The Audio ****½ The DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 track presents a fine near-field listening representation of the theatrical mix. The mix frequently makes subtle use of the surrounds for light ambiance, and occasionally springs to life for a more aggressive surround experience, particularly during the rugby matches. The prime beneficiary of the lossless encoding is the score by Scott Eastwood and Michael Stevens. Alternate language 640 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 dub tracks are presented in Spanish and French. The Extras **** When the disc is first inserted into a player, the following two skippable promos play. They are presented in VC-1 encoded 1080p video with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio): Warner Digital Copy Promo (1:00) Clint Eastwood: 35 Films, 35 Years DVD box set promo (2:22) The proper special features on this disc are all presented in 1080p VC-1 encoded video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless otherwise indicated below. Vision, Courage, and Hope is a visual commentary track that is by far the most comprehensive and informative special feature on the disc. It runs the length of the film with the supplemental standard definition video panels with 2.0 audio appearing in the lower right corner of the 16:9 frame and a navigation icon in the upper left. The navigation icon allows viewers to skip ahead or back to the adjacent pieces of supplemental video. There is rarely more than a minute at a time that goes by without one of these supplemental picture in picture pieces. They consist of a blend of talking head interviews and behind the scenes video. The behind the scenes shots actually give the viewer a pretty good idea how much desaturation was applied to the image via filtering or post-processing, with deeply saturated blues in the sky in the behind the scenes footage juxtaposed with grey-blue skies from the same scene in the finished film. The majority of comments concern the historical events dramatized in the film consisting of first hand accounts from people who were there and scholars on the subject, but there is also a fair amount of behind the scenes production information as well. On-camera interview comments are provided by Screenwriter Anthony Peckham, Director Clint Eastwood, Mandela' Executive Assistant Zelda la Grange, Actress Leleti Khumalo ("Mary"), Actor Tony Kgoroge ("Jason Tshabalala"), Presidential Protection Unit Officer Linga Moonsamy, Actor Morgan Freeman ("Nelson Mandela"), Presidential Protection Unit Head Jason Tshabalala, Producer Lori McCreary, Actress Marguerite Wheatley ("Nerine"), Playing the Enemy Author John Carlin, Producer Robert Lorenz, '95 Springbok Captain François Pienaar, Actor Julian Lewis Jones ("Etienne Feyder"), '95 Springbok Manager Marné du Plessis, Actor Matt Damon ("François Pienaar"), Actress Adjoa Andoh ("Brenda Mazibuko"), '95 Springbok Player/Technical Advisor Chester Williams, '95 Springbok Player Joel Stransky, Actor Louis Minnaar ("Kitch Christie"), Sports Coordinator Aimee McDaniel, Location Manager Peter Currey, Wife of François Pienaar Nerine Pienaar, Editor Joel Cox, Editor Gary Roach, Visual Effects Supervisor Geoffrey Hancock, Composer Kyle Eastwood, Composer Michael Stevens, and Producer Mace Neufeld. Under the heading of Behind the Story are the following two featurettes: Mandela Meets Morgan (28:10) is a brief but informative behind the scenes featurette that looks at various phases of the film's production and pre-production. It includes a wide variety of topics including, as the title suggests, meetings between Morgan Freeman and Nelson Mandela. On-screen titles (with no accompanying chapter stops) divide the featurette into sections and explain the general topics discussed. These titles are: The Genesis, Morgan as Mandela, Enter Matt Damon, Casting the Teams, How to Shoot Rugby, The French Game, Production Challenges, and Robben Island. On camera comments are provided by Damon, Freeman, Carlin, Eastwood, McCreary, Neufeld, Mandela, la Grange, Peckham, Kgoroge, Nerine Pienaar, François Pienaar, McDaniel, Williams, Actor Scott Eastwood, Lorenz, Stransky, Costume Designer Deborah Hopper, Prop Maker Dominic V. Ruiz, Location Manager Patrick Mignano, Location Manager Peter Currey, Moonsamy, and Tshabalala. While assembled from the same interview sessions as much of the Vision, Courage, and Hope picture in picture features, there is only a little overlap between them, although a lot of the material that is repeated is from Eastwood. Matt Damon Plays Rugby (6:49) is a very brief featurette focusing on the relatively narrow topic of how Matt Damon prepared himself to play a rugby player in the movie. On-camera comments are provided by Eastwood, Stransky, Jones, Damon, McDaniel, McCreary, François Pienaar, Nerine Pienaar, Peckham, Lorenz, and Williams. The Eastwood Factor (22:23) is a shortened version of the Richard Schickel documentary looking at Clint Eastwood's career, especially at Warner Brothers. It is presented in VC-1 encoded 4:3 standard definition video. It begins with a brief introduction from Richard Schickel who mentions that the full length version will be coming at a later date (review of that standalone release is pending from yours truly). This version is narrated by Schickel and follows Clint Eastwood to various locations around the Warner Bros. Lot while discussing the Dirty Harry Films, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Bird, Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, and Mystic River. Stops also include a visit to the scoring stage named after Eastwood and a visit with Costume Designer Deborah Hopper who takes Eastwood and the viewer on a tour of the storage area where a lot of Clint's costumes from various film roles are kept. Invictus Music Trailer (2:36) Is an extended trailer for both the film and the soundtrack. It is the best trailer for the film that was produced, and it is nice to see Warner including any trailer for a theatrical new release film on BD. The disc can be used to access Warner's BD-Live portal, but short of being able to host and participate in a screening of the film, there is no content currently available that is specific to Invictus SD DVD & Digital Copy - As is the case with all recent Warner BDs of theatrical new release titles, a separate disc is included with an SD DVD of the film and a digital copy. The DVD presentation is bare bones with the film in 16:9 enhanced widescreen video, English Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, and available English SDH, French, or Spanish subtitles. It has no extras. The video carries noticeable but not excessive signs of mpeg-2 compression and minor aliasing, but is otherwise a solid standard definition presentation. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is encoded at 384 kbps with fidelity suffering a bit due to the relatively low bitrate. The digital copy is on-disc, and is compatible with either iTunes or Windows Media formats. It is unlocked through the use of a one-time password provided on a paper insert to the disc case. Packaging The disc is enclosed in a standard Blu-ray case with an extra hub on the inner left side allowing it to accommodate the DVD/digital copy disc as well as the BD of the film. The only inserts are the standard "Disc Manufactured to highest standards" disclaimer sheet and a sheet with the code to unlock the iTunes or Windows Media digital copy. Summary **** Clint Eastwood's Invictus performs the nifty trick of providing a compelling dramatic portrait of Nelson Mandela at a historically critical time in South Africa's history wrapped up in the trappings of an almost as compelling sports movie. It is presented on BD with a transfer that accurately conveys the film's somewhat drab cinematography and a lossless DTS-HD MA surround audio track that conveys the sports sequences with strong dimensional impact and the score with outstanding fidelity. The extras are thoughtfully assembled and highlighted by an informative context sensitive picture-in-picture commentary with broad participation from filmmakers and the real-world people portrayed in the movie.