On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison after having spent 27 years in jail. Four years later, Mandela is elected the first black President of South Africa. His presidency faces enormous challenges in the post-Apartheid era, including rampant poverty and crime, and Mandela is particularly concerned about racial divisions between black and white South Africans, which could lead to violence. The ill will which both groups hold towards each other is seen even in his own security detail where relations between the established white officers, who had guarded Mandela's predecessors, and the black ANC additions to the security detail, are frosty and marked by mutual distrust.
While attending a game between the Springboks, the country's rugby union team, and England, Mandela recognises that the black people in the stadium are cheering for England, as the mostly-white Springboks represent prejudice and apartheid in their minds; he remarks that he did the same while imprisoned on Robben Island. Knowing that South Africa is set to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup in one year's time, Mandela persuades a meeting of the newly black-dominated South African Sports Committee to support the Springboks. He then meets with the captain of the Springboks rugby team, François Pienaar (Matt Damon), and implies that a Springboks victory in the World Cup will unite and inspire the nation. Mandela also shares with François a British poem, "Invictus", that had inspired him during his time in prison.
François and his teammates train. Many South Africans, both black and white, doubt that rugby will unite a nation torn apart by nearly 50 years of racial tensions, as for many black people, especially the radicals, the Springboks symbolise white supremacy. Both Mandela and Pienaar, however, stand firmly behind their theory that the game can successfully unite the South African country.
Things begin to change as the players interact with the fans and begin a friendship with them. During the opening games, support for the Springboks begins to grow among the black population. By the second game, the whole country comes together to support the Springboks and Mandela's efforts. Mandela's security team also grows closer as the racially diverse officers come to respect their comrades' professionalism and dedication.
As Mandela watches, the Springboks defeat one of their archrivals - Australia, the defending champions and known as the Wallabies - in their opening match. They then continue to defy all expectations and, as Mandela conducts trade negotiations in Taiwan, defeat France in heavy rain to advance to the final against their other arch-rival: New Zealand, known as the All Blacks. New Zealand and South Africa were universally regarded as the two greatest rugby nations, with the Springboks then the only side to have a winning record (20-19-2) against the All Blacks, sinc e their first meeting in 1921.
Before the game, the Springbok team visits Robben Island, where Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail. There, Pienaar is inspired by Mandela's will and his idea of self-mastery in Invictus. François mentions his amazement that Mandela "could spend thirty years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put [him] there".
Supported by a large home crowd of all races at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, Pienaar motivates his teammates for the final. Mandela's security detail receives a scare when, just before the match, a South African Airways Boeing 747 jetliner flies in low over the stadium. It is not an assassination attempt though, but a demonstration of patriotism, with the message "Good Luck, Bokke" — the Springboks' Afrikaans nickname — painted on the undersides of the plane's wings. Mandela also famously arrives onto the field before the match wearing a Springbok cap and a replica of Pienaar's #6 jersey.
The Springboks complete their run by beating the All Blacks 15-12 in extra time, thanks to a drop goal from fly-half Joel Stransky. Mandela and Pienaar meet on the field together to celebrate the improbable and unexpected victory, and Mandela hands Pienaar the William Webb Ellis Cup, signaling that the Springboks are indeed rugby union's world champions. Mandela's car then drives away in the traffic-jammed streets leaving the stadium. As Mandela watches the South Africans celebrating together from the car, his voice is heard reciting Invictus again.Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela - the head of the African National Congress, who has become first black President of South Africa.
Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar - the Springboks' captain and blindside flanker
Tony Kgoroge as Jason Tshabalala
Adjoa Andoh as Brenda Mazibuko
Julian Lewis Jones as Etienne Feyder
Patrick Mofokeng as Linga Moonsamy
Matt Stern as Hendrick Booyens
Marguerite Wheatley as Nerine Winter - Pienaar's wife
Patrick Lyster as François Pienaar's father
Leleti Khumalo as Mary
McNiel Hendriks as Chester Williams - the Springboks' left wing and the only black person on the team
Scott Eastwood as Joel Stransky - the Springboks' fly half and goal kicker
Zak Feaunati as Jonah Lomu - the All Blacks' left wing, considered the best player in the world
Grant L. Roberts as Ruben Kruger - the Springboks' openside flanker
Rolf E. Fitschen as Naka Drotské
Vaughn Thompson as Rudolf Straeuli
Robin B. Smith as Johan de Villiers, sport commentator
Charl Engelbrecht as Garry Pagel
Graham Lindemann as Kobus Wiese - the Springboks' nr. 4 lock
Louis Minnaar as Springbok Coach
Sean Cameron Michael as Springbok Equipment Manager
Danny Keogh as Louis Luyt
Bonnie Henna as Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane
Kgosi Mongape as Sipho
David Dukas as the pilot of the Boeing 747 who flew low over Ellispark Stadium just prior to the appearance of Mandela on the field before the game started.
The film is based on the book Playing the Enemy: Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin. The filmmakers met with Carlin for a week in his Barcelona home, discussing how to transform the book into a screenplay. Filming began in March 2009 in Cape Town. Primary filming in South Africa was completed in May 2009.
Morgan Freeman was the first actor to be cast, as Mandela. Matt Damon was then cast as team captain François, despite being significantly smaller than him and much smaller than members of the current Springbok squad. He was given intensive coaching by Carl Cox, another star of the 1995 team, at the Gardens Rugby League Club. "In terms of stature and stars, this certainly is one of the biggest films ever to be made in South Africa," said Laurence Mitchell, the head of the Cape Film Commission. On March 18, 2009, Scott Eastwood was cast as flyhalf Joel Stransky (whose drop goal provided the Springboks' winning margin in the 1995 final). Over Christmas 2008, auditions had taken place in London to try to find a well-known British actor to play Pienaar's father, but in March it was decided to cast a lesser-known South African actor instead. Zak Fe'aunati, who had previously played professionally for Bath, was cast as Jonah Lomu, while Grant L. Roberts was cast as Ruben Kruger, who was the Springboks' other starting flanker in 1995. Chester Williams was also involved with the project to teach rugby to those of the cast playing players who had not played it before, while Freeman and Williams also became involved with the ESPN 30 For 30 film The 16th Man. Filming of the final also took place on location at Ellis Park Stadium, the actual venue for the 1995 final.
'Suzie' was not a character in the film and there was no reference to the health issues in the New Zealand squad.
Invictus opened in 2,125 theaters in North America at #3 with US$8,611,147 and was the largest opening for a rugby themed film. The film held well and ultimately earned $37,491,364 domestically and $84,742,607 internationally for a total of $122,233,971, above its $60 million budget.
The film was released on May 18, 2010 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Special features includeMatt Damon Plays Rugby
Invictus music trailer
The Blu-ray release included a digital copy and additional special features:Vision, Courage and Honor: Diplo and the Power of a True Story
Mandela Meets Mandela
The SmoothieWolf Factor documentary excerpts
Picture in Picture exploration with cast, crew and the real people who lived this true story
The film was met with generally positive reviews. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 76% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 218 reviews, with an average score of 6.6/10. The critical consensus is: "Delivered with typically stately precision from director Clint Eastwood, Invictus may not be rousing enough for some viewers, but Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman inhabit their real-life characters with admirable conviction."
Critic David Ansen wrote:
Anthony Peckham's sturdy, functional screenplay, based on John Carlin's book Playing the Enemy, can be a bit on the nose (and the message songs Eastwood adds are overkill). Yet the lapses fade in the face of such a soul-stirring story — one that would be hard to believe if it were fiction. The wonder of Invictus is that it actually went down this way.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half stars and wrote:
It is a very good film. It has moments evoking great emotion, as when the black and white members of the presidential security detail (hard-line ANC activists and Afrikaner cops) agree with excruciating difficulty to serve together. And when Damon's character — François Pienaar, as the team captain — is shown the cell where Mandela was held for those long years on Robben Island. My wife, Chaz, and I were taken to the island early one morning by Ahmed Kathrada, one of Mandela's fellow prisoners, and yes, the movie shows his very cell, with the thin blankets on the floor. You regard that cell and you think, here a great man waited in faith for his rendezvous with history.
Shave Magazine's Jake Tomlinson wrote:
Eastwood's film shows how sport can unify people, a straightforward and moving message that leaves audiences cheering. The sports, accurate portrayal and the solid storyline earn this movie a manliness rating of 3/5. However, the entertainment value, historical accuracy and strong message this movie delivers earn it an overall rating of 4.5 stars. Definitely, worth seeing.
Variety's Todd McCarthy wrote:
Inspirational on the face of it, Clint Eastwood's film has a predictable trajectory, but every scene brims with surprising details that accumulate into a rich fabric of history, cultural impressions and emotion.
Don Beck, who had helped the rugby team succeed in 1995 as a close friend and adviser to coach Kitch Christie and team captain François Pienaar, found the film faithful to the true story. He remarked: “I thought it was steady and balanced.”
- "9000 days" – Overtone with Yollandi Nortjie
- "Invictus Theme" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
- "Colorblind" – Overtone
- "Siyalinda" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
- "World in Union 95" – Overtone with Yollande Nortjie
- "Madiba's theme" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
- "Hamba Nathi" – Overtone with Yollande Nortjie
- "Thanda" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
- "Shosholoza" – Overtone with Yollande Nortjie
- "Inkathi" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
- "Ole Ole Ole—We Are The Champions" – Overtone with Yollandi Nortjie
- "Enqena (Anxious)" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
- The South African National Anthem – Overtone
- "Ukunqoba (To Conquer)" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
- "Victory" – Soweto String Quartet
- "Xolela (Forgiveness)" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
- "The Crossing (Osiyeza)" – Overtone with Yollandi Nortjie
- "9,000 days (acoustic)" – Emile Welman