When movie legends, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman get together to make a movie on a living legend, Nelson Mandela, the end-product is nothing less than brilliant. Clint Eastwood has made some brilliant movies and it's just amazing, that even at this age, he manages to come out with such inspiring, soul stirring movies. The movie is based on journalist John Carlin's "Playing the Enemy," an excellent book on Mandela using sport to bring a country together. This is much a tribute to the man, as a review of the movie.
The movie set in early 1990's is set in the context of apartheid and the mess that the country was in at the time, when Mandela was freed after 27 yrs in prison. The division in the country is shown in the first scene itself, when they show Mandela being freed. While on one side, the blacks playing soccer are shown celebrating, the whites on the other side say, the rugby coach says, that the terrorist Mandela has been let out and country will go to the dogs now.
There are many special moments in the movie which is really the key to the story telling genius that Clint Eastwood is. The secret to the movie's success lies in those small scenes. How Mr. Eastwood manages to put so many plots into the narrative is simply amazing.
The distrust between the whites and the blacks is shown interestingly when Mandela joins office and few white guys come to his ANC guards. Their first reaction is...what have we done...have you come to arrest us? This underlines the deep sense of distrust or suspicion between the two groups. Through out the movie, there is a sense of fear among the ANC members, that their beloved leader or their government is under threat and without ever mentioning the word, the director has been able to convey the fear in the minds of the people. The audience can feel the insecurity and fear, too.
In another beautiful moment, when Mandela was out for a morning walk and the paper says, "He can win an election, but can he can govern the country?" and Mandela says "That's a fair Question!" It shows the stature of the person, that he was and someone who wouldn't stop questioning himself, if he is competent for the job and this came up again and again in the movie. Later, in another scene when one of his Chief Of Staff, Brenda asks him to consider a decision to overrule the majority as it may be a political risk as his equity may go down. And Mandela says, something like...that the day he starts worrying about that, he is no longer fit to run the country. You can't help thinking, if any Indian politician would consider taking such a risk in their political career!
In a scene, when Mandela meets Francois Pienaar, the national rugby team captain, he asks him how does he lead his team and inspire his colleagues? Pienaar says, he leads by example. And Mandela nods in agreement. In the movie, which talks about reconciliation and forgiveness, Mandela has truly led by example. Doing it himself before asking others to do the same.
Mandela's relentless hardwork and dedication to the job is shown in some beautiful moments, when he tries to combine work with something else, like say watching TV or during travel. This obviously takes a toll on his body, and still he doesn't give up. The movie also briefly talks about his personal life in shatters as his wife is estranged from him and his daughter who doesn't support his beliefs or ideology. In a another early morning walk scene, when a white guard asks Mr. Mandela about his family as Mandela enquires about his, he decides to not go for the walk. His colleague, the black guard then tells him, you never ask him that...after all, he is also a man. This showed the amount of respect they had for a man, who almost achieved superhuman / God like status in his life for his followers.
Later, to inspire Pienaar to lead his team to victory to help reunite the nation, he sits down to write the poem by William Ernest Henley, which he later handed over to Pienaar and the lines "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul" keeps on repeating in the background.
Another great moment is when Francois gets 4 tickets for the final game, and his father did not count count their domestic help...after counting him, his mother and his wife. Of course, the climax is on expected lines, as you don't really expect the team to lose. But, still Mr. Eastwood and the fine peformers manage to hold your attention, even with the long rugby scenes. Of course, not understanding the rugby sport which has some important role to play in the movie could be a slight irritant. You feel a bit like the black bodyguards, who were asking their white counterparts about the proceedings of the game.
After watching this movie, it will be difficult to imagine which is the real Mandela and for many generations to come, Morgan Freeman may truly be the visual representation of Nelson Mandela. I have read, that Mr. Freeman spent lot of time in researching Mr. Mandela's mannerisms. After watching the movie, I felt, Mandela's wave of his hand is definitely one of them. It's not a full wave, it's like the nod of the hand.
Matt Damon plays the role perfectly in a much understated elegance. I read that the real Mr. Pienaar is a big man and Mr. Eastwood had to use camera angles and other technical help to beef up Matt Damon. To understand Damon's role in the movie, you have to wait for the moment, when he stands in Mandela's prison cell and measures it up and imagines, how his life must have been in a tiny cell for almost 30yrs. Nothing is said, as the poem plays in the background, but a lot is conveyed.
This is a movie which stays with long after leaving the theater, and you can't help thinking about the comparison between Mandela and Gandhi, both the personalities and the movies.
P.S. Can't help wonder, if ever a man could rise to bring the world together, as Mr. Mandela did for the nation and on a more narrow scale, if any Indian film maker can make movies with such vision as Mr. Eastwood.