Tonight, the Missus and I watched Clint Eastwood's Invictus. Reading the reviews cited on Metacritic, I noticed two major themes: (1) the characters are flat and boring, so it fails as a character drama, and (2) the sport is confusing and the game scenes too drawn out, so it fails as a sports movie. But Invictus is a bit too slippery to fall neatly into either of those cubbyholes.
First, the important characters are not flat. People think that since Morgan Freeman was (finally) cast as Nelson Mandela that he must be the main character. Or maybe it's Matt Damon---he's a big name. People are wrong on both points. The main character in the story is the people of South Africa. The motivating question isn't whether Mandela and Pienaar will accomplish their goal, but whether the South African people can figure out how to get along. Just think about how much time we spend watching nameless characters develop trust in each other. Think about the security guards who start off hating each other and end up playing rugby together. Or think about the poor kid who starts off refusing a free Springbok t-shirt and ends up listening to the game on the radio with two white men he doesn't know. South Africa wanted to figure out how to live as a nation, and the 1995 Rugby World Cup gave them a glimpse of national unity.
Second, Invictus heavily features a sport, but the game is used to show it's impact on the characters. If I wanted to watch a rugby match, I could have found one on TV. Instead, I wanted to watch a series of characters go through an ordeal and come out on the other side. This movie did exactly that. The most important aspect of the game is its impact on the important characters (i.e., South Africa). That's why Eastwood doesn't tell us how rugby works; that's why he only cuts to the game clock once; and that's why the winning points are scored with "minutes" to go in extra time. The movie isn't about the game or its players; it's about the spectators.
I think the best compliment you can give a director on seeing a movie is to say that it makes you want to watch more of his or her stuff. This is the third Clint Eastwood-directed film I've seen (fourth, if you count Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which I don't, because I was high on Novocaine after having my wisdom teeth removed). Changeling didn't do it for me, but Gran Torino is one of those movies I keep thinking about. I think Invictus will be more like Gran Torino than Changeling. And I also think I'm going to watch some more of his stuff.
Starting with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.