As a filmmaker, Clint Eastwood has made a career of revising familiar movie genres through characters who seek some sort of redemption (e.g. UNFORGIVEN, MILLION DOLLAR BABY). His latest film is a by-the-numbers sports flick where post-apartheid South Africa receives worldwide affirmation through the efforts of its 1995 World Cup championship rugby team. But the games on the field are almost a distraction from the overriding theme of Anthony Peckhamís screenplay about how a national leaderís forgiving spirit kept a country from civil war. As South African president Nelson Mandela, Morgan Freeman (DRIVING MISS DAISY) gives a nearly effortless performance in a role that he was born to play. His characterís pronouncements avoid speechifying even though he possesses the kind of charisma capable of convincing the rugby teamís captain (Matt Damon) that his so-so squad can not only be winners but also a unifying national force. There are several emotionally charged scenes that are beautifully underplayed like the one where Damon (THE BOURNE IDENTITY) visits the tiny cell where Mandela had been unjustly incarcerated for nearly three decades. The climactic championship match against New Zealand's ironically nicknamed All Black Team is well-directed and rousing even though its outcome is highly predictable. Some of Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevensís musical soundtrack is inappropriate for a particular sequence and the film could have benefited from some strategic editing. However, these are flaws that I think might only keep this movie from being the awards magnet that Warner Brothers wants it to be. But like winning athletic teams, good movies are about proper execution and few are better at making them now than Eastwood.
EXCELLENT MOVIES TO PUT YOU IN THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT: A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951), A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983), DIE HARD (1988), DISNEYíS A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009), HOLIDAY INN (1942), ITíS A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), NATIONAL LAMPOONíS CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
Hereís hoping all of you have a Christmas thatís two ďthumbs-up.Ē