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By Joe MacLeod | Posted 12/9/2009

Honestly, Nelson Mandela is really some kind of a fucking transcendental saint of the highest universal magnitude, even if only half of Morgan Freeman's portrayal is accurate here in Clint Eastwood's latest, dramatizing the South African Springboks rugby team's quest for the World Cup in 1995, the year after apartheid was legally ended. Freeman's Mandela is unfailingly, ethereally, luminously polite, considerate, and selfless as he cannily maneuvers and manipulates people, political opposition, and public opinion in an effort to remove the idea of the Springboks team as a symbol of Afrikaner racist oppression and turn it into an element of cultural unity in South Africa. Director Eastwood (sparing us a screen appearance) does his workmanlike usual and tells the straight story, telegraphing themes over and over again, connecting the dots for the viewer until the paper tears through; even though he is president, Nelson Mandela is risking his life any time he appears in public, South Africa is full of racial/economic division, Mandela's personal life was destroyed by his confinement in prison for 27 years, the tension inside Mandela's racially mixed security unit is a microcosm of the scene in the entire country, etc.

In the case of explaining the basics of the sport of rugby to a U.S. movie audience, however, the approach pays off--so what the fuck do we know--and Eastwood keeps things moving along briskly enough, with the heaviness fenestrated by touches of humor (and even a moment of terror) that makes this whole thing a success, right down to laying out a palatable recital of the cliché-spawning poem inspiring the movie's title and players. And while there are probably only two or three hundred South African actors who could have played Matt Damon's part as Francois Pienaar, the Springboks captain, another thing Hollywood, USA's Clint Eastwood knows how to do is get movies made, so here's Matt Damon, Afrikaner, and while we're sure Mr. Damon did a lotta pushups or whatever to prepare for his role, we certainly didn't buy him as a rugby player. But after awhile, our suspension-of-disbelief muscles kicked in and we found ourselves rooting for this guy, facing his less-enlightened teammates in the locker room, and then again out on the pitch against daunting opposition as the outcome of a "thug's game played by gentlemen" is transformed into an important sociological event.

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