Monday, 30 August 2010

Rugby can solve everyone's problems

A film about rugby must be a pretty hard sell, because most of the film-watching world don't care about it. But if a sport is surrounded by a story - that's when films get made. In Invictus, President Mandela sees that the Springboks (the South African rugby team) still represent apartheid and white culture, and chooses the team to try and unite the country. In a film about South African race relations, the focus on the 1995 Rugby World Cup centres the problem up to a point without any mess or fuss. There's the microcosm of Mandela's mixed race bodyguards arguing about the importance of the sport, right up to stadium crowds who are finally supporting the same team. As the Springboks progress in the championship, everyone starts to get on a bit better. It might be a simplification, but it's a trajectory that works. Everything fits into place under Clint Eastwood's sturdy direction, so it's difficult to find any complaints. Sports films all come down to the same thing - a team or a player gets beaten, improves, then wins - the difference here being that it actually seems to matter. I don't know whether a rugby game really did unite a country, but in Film Land it did, and it's only Film Land that matters around here. Morgan Freeman does the same wise old man performance but with a South African accent. That works. Matt Damon manages to play rugby without looking ridiculous. That works too. It's predictable in an acceptable way.

Also, I think this was the first time I've ever seen rugby 'faked' for the camera. This sort of thing is done regularly for American Football films and, you know, golf, but this might actually hurt. In the middle of one of the most chaotic and brutal sports in the world, somebody wandered in with a very expensive camera and told them all to do it again. It looks real too. Good job.

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