INVICTUS * * * *
Cert 12A, 133 mins
The trouble with many biopics is that they try to fit too much in, as Taylor Hackford’s 152-minute take on Ray (Charles) proved six years ago.
Michael Mann’s 159-minute drama Ali was simply tedious, despite an Oscar nomination for Will Smith.
Clint Eastwood gets round this problem with Nelson Mandela’s story simply by studying his motivational impact on the Springbok team as it prepared for the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.
Having spent 27 years in prison for leading the fight against apartheid, one might have thought the newly-elected President Mandela would have been the last person to try to unite such a divided country behind a previously all-white team.
But, as Invictus illustrates, his decision to do so was a stroke of political and sporting genius.
Now 72, Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman was always going to be the perfect actor to play the South African president in his mid-70s, and so it turns out once he’d given up on his own plans, as a producer, to adapt Mandela’s broader memoir, Long Road To Freedom.
Eastwood is something of a minimalist, so Invictus often benefits from the narrow focus.
In Mandela’s case, though, the man is so complex that the film sometimes feels in danger of becoming too reverential as well as incapable of either exploring Mandela’s protest roots or his long-term economic, political and medical (Aids) legacy.
Whenever the magnetic Freeman is on screen he certainly is Madiba, as Mandela is known by his tribal name.
But, given that we know the result, the amount of action from the pitch and in the crowds around it is overdone.
Mandela’s own dramatic influence slips away with the fading narrative.
On the plus side, even when making a film about a sport he knew little about and in an unfamiliar country like South Africa, Eastwood delivers a magnificently smooth feature, beautifully shot by regular cinematographer Tom Stern (Gran Torino/Million Dollar Baby).
The Springboks’ journey to the Robben Island cell where Mandela drew strength from William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus – ‘I am master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul’ – will be a moving highlight for many.
A friend tells me that when he saw Invictus in Cape Town, some people were amused by best supporting actor Oscar nominee Matt Damon’s accent as Springbok captain François Pienaar.
But, it should sound authentic enough to most untrained European ears and, although Damon concedes six inches to Pienaar’s height, Eastwood’s angles, set-ups and use of real ruby players around him help to minimise the impact of any shortfalls. GY
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG * * * *
Cert U, 97 mins
The Disney studios go back to basics with this charming hand-drawn Oscar-nominated animation, reminding us of classics like Snow White and Cinderella.
It has the same timeless, fairytale feel, without any of the pop culture references we’ve come to expect from computer-generated cartoons like Toy Story.
Not that it’s old-fashioned and dull – it actually seems fresh and fun. And Disney has finally caught up with the 21st century by featuring its first black leading lady.
Set in early 20th century New Orleans, Tiana (the voice of Anika Noni Rose, last seen as the secretary in The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency grows up with the dream of opening her own restaurant.
Instead she’s holding down two jobs as a waitress to make ends meet. She bumps into Prince Naveen of Moldonia (Bruno Campos), who’s new in town and has been turned into a frog by a voodoo curse. Tiana reluctantly agrees to kiss him in the hope it will break the spell, but instead of him turning back into a prince, she turns into a frog.
There are several toe-tapping original numbers from Randy Newman and lively song and dance routines.
It’s also full of colourful characters like a trumpet-playing alligator called Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and Cajun firefly Raymond (Jim Cummings). RL
YOUTH IN REVOLT * * * *
Cert 15, 89 mins
Michael Cera has made a living playing likeable geeks in films like Superbad and Juno. This movie is no exception as he takes on the role of Nick Twisp, a teenager who likes Frank Sinatra and poetry.
He despairs he will never lose his virginity, while his divorced parents, Jean Smart and Steve Buscemi, taunt him with their active sex lives.
Then Nick meets pretty and precocious Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) and somehow manages to win her round. In a bid to move nearer to her, he decides he has to get kicked out of his mother’s house so she’ll send him to live with his father.
Being bad enough to get the boot doesn’t come easily to excessively polite Nick, so he invents a flamboyant, confident alter ego called Francois Dillinger, who’s happy to blow things up,
The script is smart and frequently very funny, though it runs out of inventive ideas by the end.
And it may feel too contrived at times. Few teenagers actually talk like this – when was the last time you heard someone referred to as a “comely angel”? RL