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The true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.

Genres: Drama, Adaptation, Biopic and Sports; Running Time: 2 hrs, 14 mins.; Release Date: December 11th, 2009; MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Julilian Lewis Jones and Bonnie Henna

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

We watched this as a download a couple of weekends ago. (I know, I’m behind.)

This is set in the early ’90s, and covers the first year of Nelson Mandela’s presidency and how he pushed the nation’s rugby team, led by captain Francois Pienaar, to achieve World Cup glory. You have to remember that most of the players on the team were white, and the “Sprinboks” were still seen by many as a symbol of apartheid. This meant Mandela was risking the very base that pushed him into office.

Morgan Freeman completely immerses himself into the role of Mandela, and gives one of the best performances of the year. Not only are his accent and tone of voice quite good, but he brings a true 3-dimensionality to the role. Compare, for example, him having tea with Francois, to talking with his family, and to making a political speech. Freeman nailed every facet of Mandela’s life.

Damon also excels as Pienaar, the solid enough rugby player who must do more than just lead by example for his team. The screenplay, adapted by Anthony Peckham, doesn’t offer many narrative surprises, but it does do a good job examining not only the strife South Africa was in when Mandela was elected, but also the value of the team to the entire nation.

Eastwood wisely plays the material straight. Though the material may seem familiar, the performances by Damon and especially Freeman are what elevate this tale into a solid and even uplifting drama. There’s enough suspense to get things interesting, even though we know the outcome. All-in-all, a pretty good movie.

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