You are hereFreeman is great. Rugby scenes are dull.

Freeman is great. Rugby scenes are dull.

By Robert Alstead - Posted on 13 November 2010


The political drama behind Clint Eastwood's feel-good movie, based on a true story, works well. It recalls how Nelson Mandela (captured well by Morgan Freeman) used the Rugby World Cup finals in South Africa to pull together his "rainbow nation".

Rugby was largely the preserve of white South Africans during apartheid. We learn that non-whites during Apartheid, would support any team but those in the South African green and gold.

So it was with some surprise that, when he was elected President, Mandela took such a key role and personal interest in promoting the South African rugby team. However, while aides and bodyguards smarted at the idea of working with what they considered their old oppressors, Mandela understood that this was necessary as part of the process of reconciliation. He understood how sport could draw a nation together, especially if South Africa as the World Cup's host nation did well.

The script drops some clunkers of lines every now and then, but it does a reasonable job of showing tensions in the new South Africa. It also appears to be fairly loyal to the true story which is a big plus (the locker room dialogue appears to have been sanitised somewhat, but then this is a Hollywood movie).

I found it quite enlightening. For example, I didn't realise that South African captain Francois Pienaar (played ably by Matt Damon), was taken into Mandela's confidence, and that he played such a pivotal political role.

The problem arises with the rugby. I enjoy watching a good game of rugby, but Eastwood chose to faithfully recreate the highlights of key games on the field, using real rugby players.

Perhaps inevitably, what you get is something that lacks the intensity and speed of the original (video: highlights of 1995 Ruby World Cup Final), something that no amount of slo-mo can hide. The script demands quite a few scenes of rugby being played, but because the recreations are pretty lumbering and staged, the dramatic momentum falls off, especially when you probably know who will win.

It was also not the most exciting final for neutrals. What I remember most from that World Cup was how Jonah Lomu (played here by a retired Samoan player Zak Feaunati) destroyed England in the semi-finals. The final was less dramatic.

That said, it's worth seeing for Morgan Freeman's performance as a most credible Mandela and as an insight into that period of South African history.